Manzanita tornado: One year later

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The tornado didn’t destroy Manzanita.

That’s the rallying cry from a town that, one year ago Saturday, appeared to have been blown straight into Oz from a tornado that stormed through the very heart of downtown Manzanita.

“On the tourism side, we are still dealing with the perception that Manzanita was severely damaged or destroyed,” Dan Haag of Manzanita Visitors Center, said, “Visitors who haven’t been to Manzanita since the summer before the tornado were under the impression that we had been wiped off the map. A year later, we are still fielding phone calls and emails wondering if people should cancel their travel plans.”

About 8:25 a.m. Oct. 14, 2016, a waterspout formed off the coast and touched down as a tornado southwest of downtown Manzanita and tore a path of destruction northeast as it crossed Laneda Avenue damaging homes, businesses and trees along the way – ultimately dissipating after crossing Highway 101. But not a single injury was reported, miraculously.

“There were pieces of downtown all over downtown,” City Manager Jerry Taylor said. “It was a total surprise. I keep telling the story of my cell phone going off saying ‘Tornado! Tornado!’ and I said my phone was busted because we don’t have tornadoes here.”

The twister damaged 189 buildings – ranging from broken windows to missing roofs. A rough estimate from Taylor put about 30 buildings as completely destroyed.

But walking Laneda Avenue Friday, there were very few telltale signs of the tornado – until you get to Third Street.

“There is one commercial building in downtown the owners haven’t done much with,” Taylor said.

The building once housed a barbershop and the city council is concerned with the structure’s safety issues.

“We don’t regulate ugly,” Taylor said. “But it is open and we don’t want kids going in.”

The council may go after the property owner for a nuisance situation and safety issue, Taylor added. For now, the building is a relic of the tornado’s damage. Sitting vacant with exposed beams and pieces missing.

Another of the major casualties was a lot on Third Street and Hallie Avenue that was home to a grove of trees.

“Virtually all the trees were destroyed,” Taylor said, adding one-third of all of the trees in Manzanita were destroyed that day. “That lot is now being considered for development.”

The morning of the tornado, wreckage from homes, trees and power lines blanketed Manzanita. City Hall’s door was blown into the middle of the street and the sounds of chainsaws could be heard in the distance as good Samaritans like Chris Bennett, owner of Bennett Construction and Neah-Kah-Nie High School’s head football coach, started removing trees from neighbors’ blocked roads. The Emergency Volunteer Corps of Nehalem Bay also mobilized immediately in Manzanita.

Taylor gave accolades to the Public Works employees and PUD who worked tirelessly to restore power.

“We went from virtually no power to 90 percent electricity within 24 hours,” he said.

“What impressed me right after the tornado is we had contractors crawling all over town,” Taylor said, “We had quite a bit of folks repair almost immediately.”

The cluster of businesses located on the corner of Fourth Street and Laneda Avenue sustained heavy damage, causing two businesses: Manzanita Cones and Coffee and Vino to close up shop permanently and have been replaced by Schwietert’s Cones and Candy and MacGregor’s Whiskey Bar respectively in the year since the tornado. Wisteria Chic and Moxie Fair Trade have returned to their former homes – and glory.

“I was at my pop-up store in Seaside and I actually used the term ‘storm schmorm,’” Sarah Simmons, owner of Moxie, said, “I said the news is just making a huge deal of it and it just meant tourists won’t come shop. I’ll never say anything like that again.”

The next morning, the predicted storm resulted in the unexpected tornado – devastating her store.

“It was like someone reached in and grabbed my guts and pulled them out,” she said, “I was disemboweled.”

While her shop was closed, she based her operations out of Seaside.

“It was a really, really, really scary day,” Simmons said. “To see the whole town tore up, it was really shocking.”

Humbled and very grateful, Simmons said she received an outpouring of support to get back on her feet.

“It was like a thousand hands caught me,” she said.

Simmons gained access to the building May 17 and within one month was back open for business in her previous location.

“We had a really wonderful summer and our building is just wonderful,” she said. “Lots of people had never been to Manzanita before. The tornado in some ways put us on the map.”

Of her customers, Simmons said it was split between people curious about the natural disaster and many people who had no idea it ever happened.

“We talked about the tornado a lot this summer.”

After their first summer following the tornado, Haag said he would like to remind readers the best thing people can do to help is to travel to Manzanita and shop, eat and walk on the beach.

“It was a surreal moment and looking back, it still feels that way,” Haag said, “The cleanup effort was a true community effort and was indicative of how deeply residents, city officials, and business owners care about the well being of Manzanita. There is a sense of pride in how we were able to handle this event. We also feel extremely lucky that it wasn’t much worse.”

For Simmons she echoed the sense of community and care within Manzanita.

“It’s something special when you go through a life changing event and come out the other side together,” Simmons said. “The whole town – we went through something together.”

“It feels like life is starting to get back to normal,” Simmons said, “It doesn’t feel like trauma anymore.”

by Jordan Wolfe
October 13, 2017

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Kyrie Wagner