Everybody Has a Story: Columbus Day storm created chaos in Portland

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The week was coming to an end that Friday night, Oct. 12, 1962, when the weather bureau issued a storm warning for our area.

Two of my sisters had the weekend off. My older sister was headed home on the Estacada bus to celebrate her birthday with our parents. Well, I thought, at least she will be safe on the bus. If the storm got really serious, my younger sister would be called in to work at the telephone company to handle emergency calls. It brought home to me that I was going to be alone.

The sky had a strange color to it. I was getting a little anxious about what lay ahead for me as I looked out the window to see the debris whirling past. I was working in a beauty shop just off Broadway in downtown Portland. I, like a lot of other Oregonians, had never seen a really severe storm, and I watched the people. I had a sense that some of them were going about their business as usual.

My appointment book was full for the night, but I wasn't sure any of my appointments would show up. Most of my clientele were people in the entertainment business, and they counted on me being there for them.

The wind gusts were strong and the trees were leaning quite badly in the park blocks. Limbs began to cover the streets and the stoplights were swinging out of control on their thin lines. People huddled in the doorways, clutching their parcels, with little conversation spoken between them. Others were rushing to catch buses and dodging traffic, going against the lights.

My six o'clock appointment arrived. I washed her hair as we listened to the wind howl and noises on the street. I told her I wasn't comfortable putting her under the hair dryer. I expected the electricity to go off at any time.

As I set her hair, my next appointment arrived, bracing herself against the forces of the wind. She said she didn't think of any of us should be there and that she wasn't going to have her hair done. The three of us discussed our situation, and we decided my first client should go home with the hair rollers in her hair. My second client and I would attempt to make it to the office building where she worked. I knew it would be deadly for me to try and walk home the 10 blocks through the Park Blocks.

I closed the shop and noticed other shop owners doing the same. The restaurants had turned down their lighting to discourage patrons from coming in. My client and I didn't gain any distance walking, and we struggled against the wind, so we took side streets and became fearful for our lives.

After a long while, we made it to her office on the 10th floor of the Medical Building. We watched the street activity far below us throughout the night. The emergency vehicles and sirens never ceased. The electricity went off and on. We had no dinner nor sleep that night, but we were safe.

The following day, I learned through telephone channels that my older sister had been stranded on the bus and my younger sister was pulling a 24-hour shift. My parents' home was heavily damaged when one of their towering oak trees uprooted and crashed down on the house. The front porch, dining room and an upstairs bedroom were damaged.

I'm thankful that this area doesn't have storms like that very often, and that my family was all safe.

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions and relevant photographs. Email is the best way to send materials so we don't have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA 98666. Questions? Call Scott Hewitt at 360-735-4525.