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San Clemente Journal

Anticipating Disaster

Nov 30, 2015 09:48AM ● By Don Kindred

Lisa Spinelli's photo "The Day the Pier Broke"

I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin'.
I see bad times today.

Bad Moon Rising. 
- John Fogerty

By Don Kindred

Here at the Journal, we try to be a positive voice for our community. We make honest attempts 
to focus on the beautiful people, places and topics in town while shying away from controversial 
or negative ones … all in keeping with our original mission to Celebrate Life in San Clemente.
I stray from that course with this message because there are some strong and dire warnings in our local forecast; warnings that need our attention. We are facing what are potentially the most dangerous weather patterns in the history of weather patterns. They may prove less than expected, but what do we lose by preparing for them?

San Clemente’s past is full of trying times fighting the natural forces. Earthquakes, fires and storms have scarred us from one end of the city to the other, perhaps beginning when Mayor Tom Murphine’s house was swallowed by an earthquake in 1933. 
In the last three decades, San Clemente has seen what damage Mother Nature might cast upon a coastal town: 
March 1, 1983, was a memorable event. The night the pier broke. City electrician Don Colucci got an emergency call at 10pm to cut the power on the pier. “An unexpected storm had knocked 300 feet off the end of it,” he remembers, “leaving the planks and pilings to fall and ride the breaking waves like battering rams on the rest of it. By the early morning, a 60-foot section between the lifeguard tower and the shore lost its support and began to sag, threatening to pull down the newly opened Fisherman’s Restaurant. I told the City Manager we would have to cut it.” In the pouring rain and high surf, Colucci would work the electrician’s bucket to hoist up a guy remebered as Mac the Knife, who took a chainsaw and cut across the length, letting 75 feet of walkway fall into the same breaking surf. City employees (including Marine Safety Captain Lynn Hughes) dove into the waves to chain the storm-tosssed timber to Les Hunn’s tractor so it could be hauled up and away. In the end, the gutsy deeds prevented the restaurant from being lost to the sea ... the Marine Safety tower too, although it remained isolated, like an island until repairs were made.

Julie Ragenovich, (Manager, daughter of Sonny’s Pizza, grandaughter of Ernesto Genovese) once shared the story of another storm that year, the great North Beach flood which destroyed Ernesto’s Restaurant and sent cars through the Holiday Beach Hotel. “It was an El Niño year in 1983,” she says, “In early March, San Clemente had a horrible storm. The storm drain across the street (PCH, between Kaylani Coffee and Ichibiri) hadn’t been cleared of built-up debris, and it burst! A wall of rushing water came right through the restaurant, taking out the whole front of the building. The firemen had to rescue my grandmother, who had been in the kitchen making ravioli that morning. The storm sent cars floating through the motel! My uncle’s dog was lost to the ocean, never to be found. It looked like a tsunami hit! The water level was up to four feet inside the motel and restaurant.”

In 1988, a small tornado touched down on a San Clemente baseball field and carried a 30-foot-long wooden dugout 150’ and dropped it in the middle of Avenida Pico. Former police Sergeant Richard Downing had recalled that eyewitness accounts said it was “just swirling around 50 or 60 feet off the ground!”

In February of 1993, 44,000 tons of coastal bluff gave way and fell onto PCH, closing a main thoroughfare for 10 months. Floods and mudslides were so abundant one local newspaper dubbed us ‘San Calamity’.

And now they are telling us that we might be in for the worst weather since 1950! We’ve seen changes this year, we know what an El Nino can bring. We’ve had a record-breaking summer as far as heat goes, a record-breaking year actually, and weird stuff in the ocean, like red crabs and an abundance of warm-water fish in local waters. Maybe something is up.

Of course, earthquakes are nothing new, California has had about 6,500 of them in the past year, most are too small to even notice. Now some forecasters have predicted that not only the big one is coming, but that it will  happen in the next three years. Who knows?

I believe in San Clemente, and I have no doubt how we will pull together when we need to. I’m sure that, when necessary, we will handle any natural crisis that might arise.  
�The best situation for a crisis, naturally, is that we don’t have to face one.

Be smart. Be Prepared.
Get to know your neighbors. 
Get to know your vulnerabilities
Get to know your way out.