Remembering the Columbus Day Storm, 50 years later - KPTV - FOX 12

Remembering the Columbus Day Storm, 50 years later

Posted: Updated: Oct 12, 2012 08:15 PM
PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

Fifty years ago Friday, one of the biggest and most damaging storms in recorded history hit the Pacific Northwest.

The Columbus Day storm, also known as the "big blow," packed wind gusts of more than 150 mph and killed at least 46 people in Washington, Oregon and California.

Everyone who lived through Oct. 12, 1962 will likely never forget it.

"I had to walk down about five or six blocks to my home," said Agnes Ewing. "The trees were down, the lines were down, it was dark, and to this day I wonder how I made it, because I couldn't see anything."

The storm fueled by Typhoon Freda was working its way up the west coast, getting stronger as it headed north.

"I walked out of the building around 5:30 that afternoon, just in time to see the corner window of Meier and Frank blow out into the street, dresses, manikins," said retired PGE employee R.J. Brown.

Brown knew he had to get home to check on his family, but he was also ready for a lot of work ahead for the electric company.

"There would be an explosion, big flash and the whole area would go dark," he said. "Pretty soon, the whole eastside of Portland was dark."

As the storm pushed north, the winds it brought were devastating. At Oregon's Cape Blanco, some reports put the peak gust at 179 mph.

Corvallis and Newport had gusts at more than 125 mph and the Portland-metro area also saw incredibly strong winds, knocking out power to almost every PGE customer.

"Ninety-eight percent of the system was down," Brown said. "I mean, that was unheard of. Hasn't happened before, hasn't happened since."

The Pittock Mansion almost didn't make it out of the storm. The wind knocked down huge trees and smashed the roof.

The heavy tiles on the roof were flung through the air like they were made of Styrofoam.

"It was kind of a make it or break it moment," said curator Patti Larkin. "You either had to save the mansion or it was gone forever."

It took weeks, and in some places months, to fix the damage from the storm. It caused more than $200 million in damage to Oregon alone.

Adjusting for inflation, that would equal more than $1.5 billion dollars today.

"It was a rude awakening," Brown said. "But we survived it."

Copyright 2012 KPTV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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