Certain parts of my novel are in flashback–they of course all tie together and are a big part of what has happened to the world by the year 2033. This particular chapter occurs fairly early on in my novel (chapter 7) and is one of those flashbacks. It’s a biggie as far as our main protagonist goes.
Realizing that I needed to accurately describe what would occur in the event that a Cascadia Subduction Zone mega-quake should happen in the next 5-50 years (which, by the way, all signs point to “yes”). I did some extensive research on the CSZ and the resulting tsunami. I’ll give you a hint: You do not want to be anywhere near Seaside Oregon, Ilwaco or Long Beach, Washington when it happens!
I’ve spoken and emailed back and forth with some very knowledgeable and passionate experts on the CSZ quake. This chapter, set in Astoria Oregon, takes place in July, 2022. I am currently trying to figure out which portion of the chapter to submit for the forthcoming edition of CLOVER Literary periodical. So, if you’re enjoying the story tidbits that I tend to throw willy-nilly onto this site–then by all means, read ahead and enjoy. Just don’t read it while vacationing at the Pacific NW coast!
(I’d like to thank Chris Goldfinger, OSU Oceanographer and tectonic plate specialist, for his advice and recommendations–even while on vacation!
(PS: Things don’t end very well for our little seaside town of Astoria).
Astoria Oregon. Jul 3. 2022
Evie stood upright on her pedals and forced her bicycle over the steepest portion of the bridge’s ramp. Beads of sweat formed on her freckled face as she pumped the last few yards. Come on almost… there. Motorists sped past her, oblivious of the girl’s struggle as they focused on the four-mile overpass. Once Evie reached the first span—where the sidewalk separated from the two-lane traffic—she hopped off her bike and slid the pack from her shoulders. She unzipped its pouch and grabbed her handheld radio and the binoculars that her parents had given her on her recent birthday. She unclicked her bike helmet and slung it over the handlebars. Now all she had to do was wait.
The new binocs were heavy, but the magnification was strong and they automatically focused as she scanned the horizon. With these new glasses and the added height of the bridge, she figured that she could spot her dad’s boat as it crossed the Columbia bar. To kill time, she aimed her spyglasses at the waterfront and watched the activities below.
Astoria’s waterfront was jam-packed with cafes, hotels and gift shops as well as warehouses and freight yards. A giant cruise ship dominated the wharf alongside the Old Cannery Mall pier. Sunlight reflected off its alabaster hull and twenty decks-worth of windows. Evie zoomed in to observe the dockworkers as they rushed up and down the ramps to load supplies and fuel onboard the vessel. Groups of early-bird passengers mustered near the boarding gate. She magnified her lenses further and searched for her mother inside the boarding kiosk. The building was partially obstructed by the large HighTower offices, however she managed to spy her mother’s face from the open ticket window. Evie thought about radio-ing her mom to tell her she’d made it to the bridge, but knew that boarding-days were her busiest, so she just watched through the binocs as the line of eager cruisers sprawled down the pier.
Growing tired of spying on the passengers, Evie raised her glasses toward the boardwalk. Sightseers ambled along the wooden walkway that stretched from the wharf toward Smith Point Park. Tour groups—fresh off the buses—clutched visitor’s maps and paused at historical markers to snap photos. She adjusted the focus to watch Mr. Dunsmuir’s rusty tug push the fireworks barge upriver for tomorrow’s Independence Day celebration.
Astoria’s busiest weekend was in full swing as vacationers flocked to the Oregon Coast to explore its beaches and see the fireworks show over the Columbia. It seemed to Evie that everywhere she looked there were hundreds of gapers—her dad’s favorite word for the out-of-towners. She yawned and rested her elbows on the rails. A horn blast from below the bridge caught her attention. Shielding her eyes from the sun’s glare, she gazed across the river toward Washington’s shoreline. A RORO—one of the big ships that imported cars overseas, motored underneath the bridge. Evie liked the way its nickname tripped off her tongue. “Ro-ro,” she murmured. “Roll on—roll off.”
The Columbia River’s anchorages were full of these mammoth cargo ships and freighters, but from Evie’s lofty vantage they resembled a fleet of toy boats. Commercial fishermen maneuvered around the behemoths, taking care to stay well away from the oversized anchor chains. Evie absentmindedly peeled a flake of green paint from the railing and flicked it over the side, staring as it fluttered toward the water. Suddenly a familiar red-hulled vessel appeared in the distance. She reached down for her binocs and flipped the knob of the handheld.
Evie’s father Brock, steered his sixty five-foot boat Nomad, past the Cape Disappointment lighthouse. After two weeks at sea, he returned to Astoria with his hold full of Albacore tuna. The crew were anxious to cash in their shares and Brock looked forward to spending the Fourth with his wife and daughter. Conditions on the bar were rough that morning and large waves rapidly stacked up as Columbia’s current confronted the Pacific’s strong flood. Brock throttled up and Nomad plowed through the fourteen-foot waves. Once they crossed the bar, things calmed down somewhat and Brock checked his GPS, making a brief note in the ship’s log.
A static-y voice came over the VHF. “Nomad, Nomad, Nomad. This is Buttercup, do you copy?”
Brock smiled and pulled the radio’s mic from its hook. He replied, “Buttercup, this is Nomad, switching over to six-eight.”
“Six-eight, Nomad.” Brock turned the dial on his VHF and spoke into the mic. “Well, hello there! What-up, Buttercup?”
“Dad? Is that you over by Fort Stevens?”
“Yep, that’s us. I’d say in about an hour we’ll be tied up at dock. I’m sure glad to be home.”
“I thought so—these new binocs are awesome! I’m on the bridge looking right at you guys. Can you see me?”
Brock picked up his binoculars from the dash and scanned the bridge. “What are you doing up there on a busy holiday? Does your mom know where you are?”
“Mom said if I wore my helmet I could wait up here—I’m standing just past the on-ramp by my bike. I’m waving… see? It’s totally safe, there’s lots of other people up here too.”
Brock set his glasses back on the counter as he turned the helm to avoid a rolling wave. “Ah, OK then. Hey, I should be back in time to pick you and Mom up for some lunch—is she working at the terminal this morning?”
“Yeah, she’s down at the kiosk right now. I can see her through… Wh—what’s going on?” …Dad?”
A sudden jolt slammed the bridge where Evie stood and knocked her away from the handrail. Her bike fell over onto its side and rattled against the pavement. A noise, like the roar of a speeding train filled the air. People on the bridge fell or knelt to the ground as the shaking rumble increased. “Daddy! What’s happening?” Evie shouted into the radio, “Everything’s moving!”
Brock stared out his window to see the bridge sway back and forth. Sections of the middle crumbled into the river. “Evie! Evie—stay where you are! Do not move—do you hear me?”
“Dad—it’s coming apart! Daddy—it’s an earthquake!”
Brock slowed Nomad’s speed and turned the boat toward shore. The two deckhands ran into the wheelhouse. One of them screamed, “Look at the city! Jesus Christ—look at the hillside!”
The cliffs above Astoria began to move, trees toppled onto roofs and took out telephone lines. The roar of the quake was deafening. Suddenly, a large cloud of dirt mushroomed skyward and entire neighborhood collapsed down the hillside. The noise of the earthquake was augmented by the sounds of houses and vehicles crashing into the waterfront below. The grinding sound of earth and rock increased, reverberating over the river and off the opposite shoreline.
Brock’s attention was on the remaining span of bridge where his daughter gripped the railing. “Evie, are you there—you OK?” From Brock’s position, he saw the ramp tear away from the bridge, cars, bicycles and pedestrians were hurled into the rushing water beneath. “Dear God. This is the one—this has gotta be the big one.”
Evie’s trembling voice emanated from the mic in his hand. “Daddy? What should I do? I can’t get down from here. Dad, I’m so scared.”
“You hold on tight Evie. You hold on very tight… and pray—you hear me?” Tears rolled down Brock’s face as he spoke.
“Uh… Hey, Brock—man, what’s happening?” His first mate asked.
Nomad rocked violently and loud bangs echoed from its steel hull. The crew grabbed onto counters and bulkheads as the vessel slammed about. Brock looked out the wing-door as chunks of concrete and debris hurtled toward them. Suddenly, Nomad began to move backward as the current’s speed increased. “What in the hell?” He throttled up and tried to fight the current, but his boat made no headway. Then with a resounding thud, its lead keel settled onto the muddy river bottom. He laid the mic on the dash and climbed out the port door. Nomad leaned into the mud as dirty water swirled all around them. There was no way to move the boat—the mighty Columbia River was now below his propeller. He looked around—ships and other vessels lay drunkenly along the riverbed. The earthquake’s tremors shook the muddy current like a blender. Holy mother of God.
Evie fell to the pavement, closed her eyes and grabbed the bars with all her might. The sounds of screams and asphalt crumbling could barely be heard over the intense rumble of the quake. The pillar of bridge upon which she sat swung back and forth, cars skidded across the two lanes. Evie felt the binoculars slide off her lap and she opened her eyes long enough to grab them before they fell. As she looked up she saw a huge fireball on the pier, right behind the cruise ship. The fuel dock exploded as the waterfront fell six feet toward the water. Pipes burst and sent geysers of fluid and steam shooting above rooftops. Evie grasped the rail with one hand and tried to steady her binoculars, scanning the dock for any sign of her mother. The kiosk and HighTower office building were obscured in smoke. The radio beeped and she heard her father’s worried voice.
“Evie—Evie are you there? Please God, be there, Evie.”
The bridge segment pitched violently forward and Evie gasped. One of the pedestrians nearby was thrown off the side of the bridge, Evie watched her land on the rocks below. She placed the binoculars in her lap with her free hand and reached for the radio without letting loose of the railing. “Daddy—people are dying! I’m afraid the bridge is going to break apart! Help me!”
“Honey, I can’t get off of the boat. We’re stuck here. I love you—you know that right?”
“Daddy… help me!”
“Listen Evie—listen to me! You hold onto the handrails of that bridge and you don’t budge—you don’t move one inch. Do you hear?”
“Y… y… yes, I get it,” Evie cried as she spoke. “Dad—I love you.”
“Oh Evie…” Brock removed his thumb from the speaker button as a racking sob escaped from his mouth. He paused and regained his composure before pressing it again. “You’re my brave girl and you’re going to be alright. You’ll find your mom after this and both of you will get up the hill—OK?”
Brock heaved a sigh. He looked over at the waterfront and noticed the flames near the cruise ship. “Evie, hey Evie—can you see the cruise terminal from your location.”
“Daddy—I can’t see Mom. There’s too much smoke down there. Do you think she got away?”
Even through the radio’s tinny speaker, Evie discerned the strain in her father’s voice as he replied, “Sure she did, hon’. They’re all safe inside the terminal, don’t worry about Mom. She’ll know what to do.”
The shaking stopped almost as abruptly as it began. Evie held her breath as she listened to the bridge’s support beams groan and crackle. All around her, people moaned and cried—screams originated from several cars that hung over the edges of the broken overpass. A cacophony of noises rang from the town below—explosions, car alarms and shattering glass coalesced into white noise inside Evie’s head. She held the binoculars to her eyes, and saw a sailboat aground on Front Street, one of the city garbage trucks lay on its side on top of Mason’s Pharmacy. Sewage sprang from the street in front of the Cannery restaurant. The cruise ship was now completely engulfed in smoke and flames. Passengers scrambled away from the docks as crew leapt from the upper decks two hundred feet into the shallow mud. To Evie, life had now taken on a slow-motion, surreal quality. She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead into the cold steel rails.
Several minutes passed and she heard footsteps as a number of survivors gathered near the railing. People filed past her without even noticing her as they looked for a way off of the piling. She heard them talking and then all at once, four men climbed onto the rail. She peered over the edge and watched them start to descend the steel girders. The space between the beams was over five feet in some places; even more where the beams had broken off or been crumpled by the quake. As they fought their way down the hundred-foot structure, those who remained on the bridge shouted encouragement. At last, the four men reached the bottom. They scrambled over slimy rocks and mud to find firm ground. Waving at the six others on the bridge, they yelled, “It’s do-able! Come on–climb on down!”
Evie stared as the stranded people climbed over the rails, one by one. They called down to the men below for instructions. “Where do I put my foot?” “…I can’t see the next step—where should I go next?”
Her radio beeped. It was Brock’s voice. “Evie, are you still there?”
She held the radio close to her cheek and replied, “Yes—are you okay, Dad?”
“Still hangin’ in there, Buttercup. How are you?”
“Daddy, there are some people climbing down the steel beams. Some of them are already on the ground. Do you think I should follow them?”
“Evie, no. Don’t leave the bridge right now—not now. This is really important. Promise me that you will stay put.”
“I promise Dad, but… but don’t you think I should get down there and find Mom?”
“Evie, it’s not over yet, honey. There’s going to be a big wave pretty soon—a really big one. You’ll have to stay up there where it can’t get you. Understand me?”
Evie frowned and tilted her head. “Dad… are you talking about a tsunami?”
“Yeah babe, a tsunami.”
“But if it could get me way up here…”
“You are going to hold onto that railing and… Please. Just do it.”
Evie stared at her father’s distant fish boat while they spoke. She imagined he was sitting there next to her, his arm around her shoulder. As she looked toward Nomad, she noticed a white wall on the horizon. It covered the entire ocean as far as Evie could see. She placed the binoculars to her eyes and said, “Dad—there’s a huge cloud or something right near the water.”
“Hang on a sec.”
Brock stepped on deck and walked to the stern. His crew sat on fish crates and smoked, staring at the white wall across the sea. “Get below guys, let’s have this old girl fired up and ready to roll once there’s some more water under her keel.”
“It’s gonna be a wild ride huh, boss?”
“It’s gonna be somethin’, that’s for sure.”
“Well, Yippee-Ki-Yay, then says I.”
Brock returned to the wheelhouse and picked up the mic. “Calling station Buttercup-Buttercup, this is fishing vessel Nomad. Do you copy?”
Evie smiled and returned the formal hail, “Nomad, this is Buttercup. I copy you loud and clear. Over.”
“Buttercup, it looks as if we’ll be heading in to town real soon here. Thinkin’ I might be a little busy for the next hour or so… Maybe I could use an extra pair of hands after that. What say we transmit our coordinates once this little ride is over and meet up?”
“Nomad, I copy. I’ll be waiting for your call. Over.” Evie sighed and smiled, then pressed the transmit button again, “Nomad?”
“Buttercup, this is Nomad.”
“You should’ve taken me with you like I asked.”
“Yeah, well I sure could use an extra pair of hands in the wheelhouse at this point. You may just be right about that. I’m sorry I didn’t listen.”
“I really love you, Dad. I’ll see you in a little while, OK?”
“See you soon sweet girl—what did I say about staying put?”
“You said, ‘hold tight—don’t let go’ Daddy. I swear I won’t move.”
“That’s my gal! I love you. Don’t ever forget it. This is Nomad signing out.”
“Buttercup, out.” Evie gulped and set her radio in the backpack. She grabbed the bars of the railing and shook them with all her might. Then with a sigh, she bowed her head and waited.
Ten minutes passed, and then ten more. Evie dozed off a little and when at last she opened her eyes, the white wall had reached the mouth of the Columbia. The wave spanned the entire horizon, reaching up to sixty feet above the ocean’s surface. A thunderous roar echoed from the shores of the Columbia River. The river’s current, shallow as it had become, now ran backward—toward the Cascade mountains. The tsunami forced the water in front, overtook it and assimilated it into the furious mass of destruction.
Evie was fixated on the wave’s sheer size. She stared at the towering cliff of water for some time in disbelief. Her gaze moved toward what lay ahead in the tsunami’s path and she saw Nomad; it looked so tiny now. Its keel was no longer embedded in the mud, the boat—like many others—was motoring at full throttle upriver, attempting to outrun the calamity behind them.
Nomad powered forward at thirteen knots of speed. The extra push of the receding river gave them several knots advantage, but Brock knew that the pursuing wave traveled much faster than his engine could turn. “Arrrrgh! Move forward, you bitch!” He shouted at the controls and pushed the throttle to the dashboard. The ocean’s roar boomed all around them. He dared not look over his shoulder for risk of losing his nerve. His deckhands stood behind him and clung to the doorway—their life jackets strapped on tightly. A large shadow suddenly blocked the sun across Nomad’s port windows. Brock leaned forward and looked up toward the sky. One of the freighters careened sideways toward them. The broadside of the freighter’s hull filled the entire window. As the ship bore down on Nomad, Brock looked over at his crew and said, “Fellas, this is it.”
From her perch atop the bridge piling, Evie stared across the Columbia as Nomad disappeared underneath the freighter’s keel. The tsunami came upon them and swallowed both vessels. She held tightly to the railing and clutched the handheld radio against her chest, whimpering, “Daddy, Daddy… Daddy don’t go. Please, come back.”
The wall of water consumed the town’s waterfront. It broke over seawalls, flooded roads and forced everything in its path into a raging torrent of debris. People were swept into the crush as they grasped street posts and doorways. Evie spotted a couple clinging to a restaurant balcony, then suddenly the woman was gone. The people who had climbed down from the bridge were devoured where they stood—sucked underneath the filthy whitecaps. Nothing remained but the surging sea. Astoria and the Columbia belonged to the Pacific Ocean now.
The crippled cruise liner, still ablaze, was lifted and deposited on top of the Old Cannery Mall. The building collapsed into splinters as the sea carried away its beams and walls. Bodies poured out of the wreckage and were swept into the current. Evie screamed and hugged the railing as the tsunami roared around the base of her feeble pillar. She felt the entire structure vibrate, heard the metal creak and felt the damp air rise from the energy of the wave. At last, when she had no voice left, she squeezed her eyes and silently mouthed, I love you.
For the next four hours the tsunamis returned, as if each new surge meant to claim what its predecessors had been unable to destroy. Evie sat alone on the bridge’s sidewalk and hugged her little section of rail, dully observing the water’s progress and retreat. Her radio that lay across her lap now transmitted only a low static. Suddenly, the entire piling shuddered. Evie jumped, the radio slipped off her lap and tumbled ninety-feet into the water. She gripped the hand rail and peered below. Pinned against the side of the piling was an old fishing schooner. The current had pulled it close to the shoreline as the last wave receded. Its bow was now lodged between the bridge and the rocks but its hull was intact. From where Evie stood, she could make out the name on its transom: The Dottie Rose. Evie stared at the boat for some time, wondering if she could reach its deck from her precarious location.
An aftershock threw her to the pavement as the ground trembled. The damaged trusses began to crumple as the vibrations continued. Sounds of sheering metal reverberated through the asphalt. Evie realized that the time for escape was now or possibly never. She threw her leg over the side and without looking down, reached for the beam and placed her weight on it. Step by step, she crawled down the framework. The last two supports were missing, torn away by the tsunami’s rampage. She drew a big breath and looked beneath her feet—there was a twelve to fifteen-foot drop to the deckhouse roof on the fishing vessel. If she miscalculated, or if the boat shifted, she would be engulfed in the flood.
Evie shut her eyes and let go.