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MailTribune.com
  • 'All hell broke loose'

    Columbus Day storm 50 years ago created havoc across Oregon, but also brought out the best in people
  • When the screaming wind snapped the large sugar pine like a toothpick, flinging it down the mountain side, Stan Moore and his fellow tree planters hit the road.
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    • Exhibit on storm set in Portland
      With today's 50th anniversary of the 1962 Columbus Day storm, the Oregon History Museum in Portland is opening a new exhibit, "The Mightiest Wind."
      The exhibit presented by the Oregon Historical...
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      Exhibit on storm set in Portland
      With today's 50th anniversary of the 1962 Columbus Day storm, the Oregon History Museum in Portland is opening a new exhibit, "The Mightiest Wind."

      The exhibit presented by the Oregon Historical Society and Portland General Electric will be on display through Jan. 6, 2013.

      The exhibit will feature photographs, film footage and interviews from the many Oregonians who survived the event. There also will be large-scale artifacts recreating the storm's destruction, a wind machine generating wind gusts like those from the storm and a meteorologist instructing visitors how to tell the weather with the exhibit's green screen.

      The museum is at 1200 S.W. Park Ave. in downtown Portland. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

      Visitor information and a list of exhibits can be found at WWW.OHS.ORG.
  • When the screaming wind snapped the large sugar pine like a toothpick, flinging it down the mountain side, Stan Moore and his fellow tree planters hit the road.
    "That was the deciding factor to get out of there," recalled Moore, 72, of Medford. "That big old sugar pine was standing up above us on the top edge of the unit. All of a sudden the top third of the tree broke off and blew about 60 feet out into the unit.
    "We packed up and got out of there but when we came around the first corner, there were trees all over the road," he added. "And we only had a bunch of Pulaskis. Not one chainsaw. We were all day and half the night chopping our way off that hill."
    Moore was 22 when the Columbus Day storm slammed into the Pacific Northwest 50 years ago today on Oct. 12, 1962.
    The tempest that hit that Friday killed 46 people, pulled the electrical plug throughout the region, caused $235 million in property damage and flattened 15 billion board feet of timber worth an estimated $750 million. The blow-down included an estimated 113 million board feet in the Rogue River National Forest, according to the late forest supervisor Carroll Brown in his two-volume history of the forest.
    Wind gusts whipped to more than 145 mph on the Oregon Coast, 127 mph in Corvallis and 116 mph in Portland.
    "Killer Storm Batters Oregon; Hatfield Seeks Federal Help," read a front-page headline in the Mail Tribune the next day.
    In a telegram to President John Kennedy, Oregon Gov. Mark Hatfield asked that Oregon be declared a federal disaster area.
    In addition to photographs of countless trees down in the Medford area, the paper carried one of a house trailer that had been blown across Highway 101 near Gold Beach. Another photograph showed Riley Creek Elementary School at Gold Beach, flattened by the high winds. Damage to the Gold Beach area alone was put at more than $1 million.
    In Medford, the National Weather Service recorded gusts of up to 58 mph by mid-afternoon that Columbus Day, but officials say the wind speeds were greater in the mountains ringing the valley. The barometric pressure dropped to 28.99 that day. And 6.24 inches of rain had already been recorded in Medford that month.
    Moore was on a Rogue River forest crew planting Douglas fir seedlings on the Dead Indian Plateau in what was then the Ashland Ranger District.
    "It started blowing pretty hard early that morning, and kept getting stronger," said Moore who retired from the national forest as an acting ranger in 2000. "I had worked in the (logging) woods for three years before this and knew about wind and what it could do."
    But no one was prepared for the winds that day, he said.
    "Trees were falling as we were cutting our way out," he said, noting some trees across the road were 4 to 5 feet in diameter.
    The crew improvised roads where they could to get around the downed trees, cutting through them where there was no alternative, he said.
    "That was a real chore — we got back to Ashland about 11 that night," he said. "But we were fortunate. Some people were left stranded out in the woods."
    Yet a greater chore was ahead of them, he said.
    "After it was all over, we started in doing the cleanup," he said. "All of us went to work for timber crews. We started cruising all the timber that was blown down. That was an ordeal. Some of that timber was stacked 20 feet high. We were weeks and weeks doing that."
    Portland-area resident Emil Sabol, 88, a newly arrived ranger for the Union Creek Ranger District in the fall of 1962, also recalled the storm's devastation during an interview with the Mail Tribune in 2006.
    He, his wife, Dorine, who was expecting in mid-October, and their two children had arrived in Prospect the previous month.
    A B-17 pilot in the Army Air Corps in World War II who was captured after bailing out over Berlin when his plane was hit, Emil was no stranger to hardships.
    But the fury of the storm tested his mettle.
    "With that storm, all hell broke loose," said Emil who would retire as assistant director of timber management for Region 6 after 38 years with the Forest Service.
    "The highway was plugged with trees," he recalled. "But we finally got some crews going and they opened the road. We got in that car and headed out."
    They made it to a Medford hospital just before their daughter Patty was born on Oct. 15.
    Over in Grants Pass, Kathie Hemingway Hill, 62, was a sixth-grader at Fort Vannoy Elementary School when the winds began to howl.
    "Our classroom looked out at the back playground where there is now one big oak tree," said Hill who is now the school's principal. "But there were a lot of trees there 50 years ago. I remember watching them crash down on Columbus Day."
    School was let out early but the bus driver had to drop her off a half mile from her home because a tree had fallen across the road.
    "I remember the bus driver being pretty tense," she said, noting the driver had to turn the long bus around on the narrow road.
    "I walked about a half mile on a gravel lane to get home," she added. "I can remember walking with my head down into the wind. I felt sorry for myself. It was so windy and rainy."
    Upon reaching her home along the Rogue River, she and her parents watched the trees on the opposite bank being blown into the water.
    "We had all these big windows looking out across the river," said the 1969 graduate of Grants Pass High School who has been an educator for 39 years. "The trees were crashing one after another into the river."
    Like countless others across the state, the Hemingways were without electricity.
    "We cooked dinner — tuna melts — in the fireplace that night," she recalled.
    In Corvallis, Brian Ballou, now 59 and spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry in southwest Oregon, was a 9-year-old in elementary school 50 years ago today. Corvallis schools were let out early in the afternoon, he said.
    "I had about five or six blocks to walk to our house," he said. "I remember being blown off the sidewalk, staggering along while the trees were bending over."
    Framed in his mind is the sight of a brown paper bag taking flight high overhead.
    "It was one of those big paper shopping bags from a grocery store flying up in the air," he said. "It must have been a good 100 to 150 feet in the air. That thing was zipping along."
    When he reached home, he was immediately recruited by an older brother in high school to tie down a young maple tree and a cedar panel fence in the backyard.
    "While we were trying to do that, the wind started blowing the panels off the fence," Ballou said. "We lost two-thirds of them. They were peeling off like playing cards. Some we recovered, others we never saw again."
    His father was working downtown in a Chevrolet dealership where all the large plate glass windows crashed to the floor after a customer opened the door, reducing the pressure inside.
    His mother left her job early near the Corvallis airport only to find a row of wind-blown trees across the road. Fortunately, she was behind two timber fallers who methodically cut their way through the wooden obstacles, he said.
    "From a kid's point of view, it was a real hoot," he noted, although adding it was anything but for adults who were responsible for cleaning up the mess.
    "It was an event that, if you were in it, tends to be a moment in your life that freezes forever in your mind," he said.
    Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.
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