A Disaster the Size of Multiple Katrinas Is Building Off Washington’s Coast
The Coast Guard is the first line of defense against a massive tsunami. Will it also be an early victim?
Excerpt from Politico:
On the north shore of Washington’s wild Olympic Peninsula, a scimitar-shaped sandspit called Ediz Hook arcs for three miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. At its tip, between snowy mountains to the south and Vancouver Island to the north, sits what may be the nation’s most scenically sited military installation — and its most vulnerable.
U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles is the very first of first responders when something goes wrong, as it often does, on the state’s tangled straits and inlets and stormy outer coast and, sometimes, on the peaks and bluffs overlooking them. The station’s three MH-65 Dolphin helicopters are the only aircraft the Coast Guard, America’s frontline coastal defense and search-and-rescue service, bases along Washington’s deeply crenulated 3,026-mile coastline. In 2021, they undertook 195 search-and-rescue missions. Ediz Hook is also home base for four seagoing cutters, 87 to 110 feet long, and one 210-foot medium-endurance cutter, which are often away patrolling for drug smuggling, human trafficking, illegal fishing, oil spills and other security and environmental threats. Two 29-foot and two 45-foot short-range response boats deal with local emergencies; they joined the choppers on 16 rescue missions in 2021 and responded on their own in 23 others.
Many Coast Guard rescues are routine — boats adrift with stalled motors, empty gas tanks or scrambled navigational equipment. Others become Discovery Channel legend. One helicopter pilot, Lt. Thomas Loftis, told me about his first: a father and son who got swept out into Bellingham Bay, 70 miles away, on a little johnboat one January night when the temperature was 24 degrees and the wind blew 40 miles an hour: “We got there in 30 minutes,” Loftis says proudly. Hanging in the helicopter hangar is a motley row of honor: worn floats and life jackets signed by lucky boaters and mariners whom the Coasties, as the rescuers are known locally, plucked from numbing Pacific Northwest waters. This airborne rescue of 10 people trapped by severe flooding and raging currents near Forks, Washington, last November, filmed by Petty Officer Michael J. Clark, brings their work home.