Smoke plumes billow and blast, black as night, twenty stories high. Toxins burning the crystal blue sky in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.
Angry, uncontrollable explosions and flames, fueled by 16 jackknifed Bakken crude oil trains that derailed at 12:20 yesterday. In our home town, our Mosier, population 430, one exit east of Hood River, OR.
The train carrying 96 oil cars stretches east for up to a mile, right below the Historic Columbia River Highway, cozy small restaurants, fertile farms, condos and historic homes, including mine. Our 1907 farmhouse has been a safe haven for more than 100 years.
If you’re outside in the Gorge, it’s clear something really bad is underway. But with the vacuum of information common in disasters, you could just as easily have no idea at all. That was me, at work yesterday, inside, with other plans for my day.
How do you talk about that which you can barely comprehend? I work in emergency management; you’d think it would be “more normal” and somehow less traumatic. But standing in Hood River 911 center, hearing emergency calls for “oil train derailment” “fire”, "explosions" and “Mosier” struck a knife through my heart. My Mosier. Our Columbia Gorge.
My immediate concern was evacuating my pets. And my neighbors and their kids. I jumped in the car. You could not get there by freeway, both directions were closed and traffic was bulking up for what would become a near-complete shutdown of interstate transit for 12 hours. I came in the back way on old 30, the Historic Columbia River Highway.
Home was only five minutes away but it took 45 minutes to get there. I was lucky, people spent four hours, on both sides of the river, going 20-30 miles.
Road blocks were set up, a safety perimeter for explosions. An inferno burned near thousands of acres of scenic forests, burned next to Twin Tunnels trail and Rocky Creek park where we windsurf and SUP and play in the sand.
Derailed tankers spilled oil near our Creek and our Columbia River. Here, salmon swim up from the river to creek, across rocks to tiny trickles of streams - returning to their Mosier home town to spawn. They commute across hundreds of miles of the Columbia to the ocean and back again each year.
The inferno burns our Mosier, and impacts quaint small towns of the Columbia Gorge nearby. The inferno burns nature's majesty. The inferno burns in our hearts. Trauma so shocking, it's hard to believe. Denial sets in. Trauma, drama is worse on day two, after adrenaline crash.
We evacuated. We made it. We are OK. But it's not over yet for sweet little Mosier.
Our message to you: please recognize - and reject - denial.
Just Do It.
Don’t wait for the call – or a knock on the door. These things happen so fast - your best move is to stay ahead of them. Kick into problem-solving gear – do not stay in “I can’t believe it” mode. DO SOMETHING - be useful and practical. Try your best to help others along the way. Don’t just stand there and watch. Worry and wait. DO SOMETHING TO HELP.
How do you prepare? PLEASE make a family evacuation plan. THIS WEEK. SOON. Where will you go? How can you keep everyone safe and together? What if you are separated and can't reconnect?
I pulled out my evacuation list and only had time to gather my top three priorities. Those seemed like they took a couple of hours to pack into the car. Time completely changes in a disaster.
Living beings. Pets (kids, family) and all of their needs
Laptop, power cable, external hard drives with photo and video
Life’s work – Surf Dog Diaries writing project
Number 4 on the list - Cell phone chargers
For car and wall- and definitely those portable "pocket chargers."
All of the cables for every device –in the car at all times.
A backup of cell chargers and cables in your GoKit.
You burn cell phones in no time. I was missing a charger cable and the phone died. I had a pocket recharger and it died. Some fine Emergency Management work there. Not!
Keep everything in your car and your kit charged. You won't get to AC power for quite some time.
Text, don't call - it saves power and works in lower cell coverage areas
I later regretted not packing or triple checking list item four. But that time was well spent, knocking on my neighbors’ doors and driving through the neighborhood, warning people.
List item #5 – the Go-kit:
This is really needed to survive The Morning After
Toothbrush, shampoo, change of clothes
That book they tell you to add to the kit - no joke. You need an escape. Trust me on this.
Extra undies! I had extra clothes but undies slipped through the cracks (sorry, bad evacuation humor!)
Just Do It
PLEASE have an emergency kit (Go-Kit) in your home and your car. BOTH cars. A larger kit at home, easy to grab in a hurry.
Get that emergency kit list out – and assemble at least a week's worth of food, water, clothing and supplies. Start with your travel/camping/weekend kit, that's easiest.
PLEASE do not hesitate- evacuate. When you evacuate, you literally only have minutes. What's first on the list? Living beings. Pack 'em up.
Immediately put the cat into a pet carrier or a small room while you get the carrier ready. Don’t wait. Once they smell smoke and fear, you will never see them again. They will not be able to evacuate. Expect a scene while the cat goes in the bag. (And now, the cat is in the bag! Whew!)
Here are the most essential evacuation items - for pet parents:
Irreplaceable things from life on Planet Earth – but be careful– this could suck up all of your time. I keep all of my hard drives in one crate for easy access. Plan this list carefully in advance and pre-place these items together year 'round so you don't have to hunt them down.
Easy to carry, soft-sided pens for pets - every pet needs their own crate - a place where they can get comfortable. Hard-sided crates take up too much room and are heavy to pack and carry. I ran to Walmart and found inexpensive crates. Dude and Doodle used to like to be kept together, but yesterday I found out - they argue in an emergency (imagine that!) They need personal space. Dude doesn't do crates normally, but he really needed a cave after evacuating last night. The cat got the big hexagonal pet playpen, with her litter box and bed. She’s loving it. Well, in her own cat way, that is.
A bed with their own smell, for each pet
Leashes, water and food bowls, toys
A week’s worth of food and water
Boy, what I wouldn’t give, for Rescue Remedy right now - for all four of us
Cat box, cat bed, cat food, food and water bowls
Cell phones, cell chargers, all the right cables for every device - car and AC units and those portable cell phone chargers are the bomb (Oh, excuse me, that's evacuation humor.)
Your emergency Go-Kit that supports you and your family for 3 days to 3 weeks with food, water and supplies.
Water is the hardest and heaviest - but the most important. A camping filter and a water storage bag can save you time if you live around water like we do - but it's labor intensive.
Gym bag with changes of clothes - believe me, you want a new wardrobe every day with all that stress
Your travel kit of toiletries
First aid kit and/or medical supplies
In evacuations – you and your neighbors will be in denial. Some think they can hunker down and it will all just go away. They want to be home to cope (don’t we all?) They don't want to leave. But the risk of explosion and the fire -- the reality -- is worth inconvenience. Don't hesitate - evacuate.
What’s the worst that can happen if you evacuate? Inconvenience. Stress. Either way - you've got it!
Boomers (my people!) and seniors are big deniers. I knocked on doors of many of my senior neighbors - and most did not take action. Denial. We had a major wildfire here in 2009 and it was the same way. Smoke can kill you faster than fire.
So, here we are, evacuated - to our dear friends' home. We’re inconvenienced. So are the friends who took us in.
The Morning After
It’s been 24 hours, with all new emotional baggage The Morning After. It really did happen. This isn't a TV show where it's all better the next day.
The train - still derailed, responders on scene.
Mosier residents can not use any water. No drinking, no showers, no dish washing, no toilet. Inconvenience.
The weekend forecast - heat wave, 100 degrees. Air still and toxic.
We thought losing our beloved basset Elvis was bad.
From oil trains and basset hound funerals – here's what we learned:
- Love and care for all living things.
- In one moment, everything can change.
- Don't take one moment of near-normal life for granted.
- Cherish the gift. Hug your loved ones.
- Think about what you’d do and how you'd take action - if suddenly, everything changed.
Here’s our hug back to you, in honor of this moment, this day…. with thanks in our hearts.