The 1964 Flood
The Clarke Historical Museum presents our 1964 Flood Exhibit, which will be on display until the end of the year. The exhibit includes a photographic slideshow which focuses on the legendarily inundated Eel River Valley, as well as a section dedicated to the disaster relief efforts of the Red Cross and U.S. Military. Also on display are dozens of local newspapers from the weeks following the flood.
The Christmas Flood
by Jerab Pino
Fifty years ago, when a rapidly approaching cold front moving in from the northeast collided with a tropical warm front coming from the southwest, the resulting meteorological payload created an extreme weather event which unleashed legendary amounts of rain on the North Coast. Aligning with an unusually high tide, the two forces of nature wreaked havoc on the entire region. The areas that were affected most, the Eel River Valley and Crescent City regions, required extensive disaster relief efforts to mediate the crippling damage and prevent further loss of life.
By the time Civil Disaster Office Chairman Norman R. Robertson declared Humboldt County a disaster area, the towns of Crescent City, Klamath, Orick, Rio Dell, Shively, Pepperwood, Myers Flat, Miranda, and Philipsville had already been ordered evacuated. On the west side of the Eel, houses and barns were nearly submerged, making evacuation from Ferndale and Loleta possible only by airlift. In such times, in the period between the actual disaster and the emergence of an orchestrated disaster relief effort, a community is put to the test. There were undoubtedly many stories of the bravery demonstrated and reciprocal kindness experienced by members of the communities which were most affected, but a story revealed to a Humboldt Times reporter by local resident Earling Daastol on December 28, 1964 gives us a sense of the true meaning of community.
Stranded by high water at the H&H Trailer Park in Stafford, Daastol tells a story about a man named Red Nichols, who selflessly risked his life to ensure the safety of his neighbors in the Eel River Valley. He tells how the first time he laid eyes on the man was when Red threw a rope on the truck and trailer Daastol and his companion were attempting to pull out of the muck. After he pulled their vehicles to safety, Red went back down to the water in his 4X4 Jeep and pulled out 2 more occupied trailers just as the water threatened to overtake them. Later, when a vehicle could no longer offer any help, Red could be seen ferrying families to safety across the "raging river" in his motorboat. Red kept watch on the river all that night because he "couldn’t sleep." Someone else was using his bed.
The next morning, hearing about a stranded family in Scotia, Red jumped into action once again. He hurried up the river, found them taking refuge in an old empty water tower, and brought them back to safety in Stafford. When the river finally proved impassable, Red hiked overnight in the rain to bring supplies to an upriver group in need.
Red Nichols was not the only one overcome with a sense community responsibility and generosity. According to Daastol, "‘What is mine is yours’ seemed to be the order of the day. ‘Come have some beans,’ a lady called to us. We did, and it was the best I have ever tasted." These experiences led him to conclude that "the spirit of the people of Stafford could serve as an inspiration for us all."
Disaster relief efforts soon brought the Red Cross and the US Air Force to assist with transportation, food, clothing and shelter, but the efforts of early responders such as Red Nichols helped avert imminent disaster for so many community members. Residents of Humboldt should never forget the importance of community in situations like these, nor should we forget how easily nature can reclaim the land which sustains us. Prepare a disaster relief kit for your family and keep it accessible, for it’s better to be safe than sorry. Click this link for disaster planning websites.