SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

The Signs They Are A Changing



December 20, 2014
Saturday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
I always enjoy my visits to Zitka by the Zea.

jpg  Dave Kiffer

It is likely the most beautificous community in Alaska, bounded by the ocean, Porky Bikar's Mt. Fuji and more ornate Russian nesting dolls than you can shake a schtick at.

But even more than that, I have always been attracted to Sitka simply because, like many Alaskans, I am attracted to danger. Sitka is clearly more "dangerous" than more pedestrian places like Ketchikan.

Why do I love danger? I don't know, there's just something really "Alaskan" about facing "danger," about staring down wild "dangerous" beasties, about throwing yourself pell mell into "dangerous" situations.

Dang, I have to pause here for a second.

Did I just use pell mell correctly? I have this sudden fear that I should have said Pall Mall.

No, wait, that was a cigarette, I think. Or maybe some sort of lawn game. Or a street in London.

And wasn't it Richard III who used the phrase "pell-mell" to describe rapid advancement of troops or some such thing. Of course, Richard III's too rapid advancement led him to spending a few centuries buried under a parking lot. Or so say people who have nothing better to do than run around DNA testing bones they find under parking lots. So it goes.

But I digress.

Anyhoo, Alaskans love danger. All the reality television shows say so.

And that leads me back to Sitka.

How do I know Sitka is dangerous?

All those tsunami evacuation signs tell me so!

Got to be a pretty dangerous place if you are always in need to be reminded to race to higher ground.

Visit the Pioneer's Home? Race to higher ground!

Go to SeaMart? Race to higher ground!

Stop in at McDonald's? Race to higher ground!

Now that is one dangerous place to live, if that Big Mac in your hand could really be your last!

Not sure when the last tsunami to "hit" Zitka by the Zea was, but it must have left a heck of an impression.

Spend any time in Sitka and you need to be thinking about escape routes 24/7. Or so it seems.

Thank goodness, I can come back to Our Fair Salmon City and let down my tsunami guard a bit!

We don’t have to worry about such swells sweeping over us, causing us to regret visiting our low-lying McDonalds one last time. We don’t have all those evacuation signs warning us that if we want to supersize our fries we better get them to gooooooooo!

But wait just a cotton picking minute!

(yeah, yeah I COULD digress about how much cotton you can or can't actually pick in a Ketchikan minute, but apparently I really should be getting to higher ground, pronto)

Every which way you look in Ketchikan now you see signs.

No, no, not those Revelation type signs about the end of the world. Even worse ones that threaten you with imminent Inundation if you don't hie pell-mell to higher ground.

These signs say that we are suddenly in danger of tsunamis!

These signs suggest, rather strongly, that we follow the arrows to higher ground! And they helpfully point up our handy hills!

These signs say that we are just as "dangerous" as Sitka.!

Now wait just a kelp-picking minute!

The last tsunami to hit Ketchikan was? Well, it was? It was? It was around?

Well, it must have been around sometime because otherwise why would we have these signs sprouting up all over the local hiways and biways?

Even if no one remembers any tsunamis wiping away docks and washing the fishing fleet out to sea, there has to be some reason that we are awash with tsunami evacuation route signage.

Let me think.

A couple of years ago, there was a big earthquake down in the Queen Charlottes and there was a tsunami alert turning our televisions into beeping lunatics. Did we all seek higher ground?

Of course, not. We all went down to the dock to watch the six inch tsunami splash against the dock.

Not long after, there was a pretty big temblor out near Craig, but no wave of any consequence that time either.

Okay, if memory serves, there was a pretty big wave in 1964, when most of Anchorage slid into Turnagain Arm.

Heck, that wave was big enough to cause havoc in far off Hawaii and Northern California. I believe that wave even caused a bit of dock dancing damage in Craig.

So, it must have caused trouble here, right?

Not so much.

The fear of that wave did cause much of Ketchikan to seek higher ground. Our family abandoned our First Avenue abode and drove a car full of priceless things all the way up to Third Avenue.

The only thing we left behind was the goldfish as Dad said he could fend for himself. I tried to point out that he was a freshwater fish and not a saltwater one, but we were in too big of a hurry to hie pell mell to higher ground. So Goldie was on his own.

Turned out it didn’t matter because the wave that smacked into Ketchikan in 1964 was between 12 and 18 inches, depend on whose memory you are relying on.

Still, all the denizens of Ketchikan (it was much smaller then) had a fine time camping out on the hillside, shivering in the cold, waiting for the giant roaring swellpocalypse to come.

That was 50+ years ago, and we are still waiting.

But if all the signs are to be believed, the end may be near.

And we won’t have to go to Sitka to meet it!

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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