It's been a disastrous winter for Humboldt County - hit by a 5.3 earthquake and several floods just in the past two months. But first-alert crews are learning how to respond to these emergencies, officials say, and doing a much better job than in the aftermath of the April 1992 quakes. At that time, most local radio and television stations were either off the air or uninformed, and it took emergency crews longer than expected to respond.
"It generally went well compared to 1992," said Linda Nellist, coordinator to the county Office of Emergency Services. "We've had two years to meet and plan."
Long before dawn on Jan. 9 heavy rains turned Ferndale into an island, closing the only bridge across the Eel River. Heavy equipment had been ordered in time, and made it across the bridge to battle the flood. California Conservation Corps members had already filled sandbags, which saved much of the downtown area. The Volunteer Organization Active in Disasters was put in place.
"We had a lot of people willing to bend their backs," Nellist said. Disaster wasn't averted, however. Ranchers in the Loleta and Ferndale bottoms lost more than 600 dairy cattle and sheep to the flood. The city of Ferndale lost more than $1 million in bridges and culverts. Business and residential losses are expected to exceed that.
And the earthquake, which hit the North Coast just early the morning after Christmas, caused about a dozen injuries and nearly $3 million in damage. Unlike the three jolts in April 1992, the last quake didn't rattle the OES system. City and county emergency crews assembled quickly.
Television and radio stations alerted the public (although the big three San Francisco stations, channels 2, 4 and 5, were off the air because of a snowstorm on a transmitting mountain top). Damage assessments were finished quickly and loans and other earthquake repair funds are coming in.
GRAND JURY KNOCKS
By failing to provide a permanent homeless shelter, the city of Eureka is jeopardizing millions of dollars in state and federal housing grants, a recent Humboldt Grand Jury reported.
According to the critical report, the Grand Jury said Eureka officials engaged in "political infighting," thereby creating a yearly crisis for Humboldt's estimated 1,500 homeless.
City leaders failed to make a decision again this year about where to place a homeless shelter. In hurried November sessions, county officials voted on a site at the north end of Eureka. It opened Dec. 1. The move angered nearby residents and resulted in a lawsuit.
While the city stalls, its general plan for development is held up by state officials, who won't approve it until the city creates a permanent shelter. Without state approval of the city's general plan, state and federal housing grants will not be processed or approved.
Between the rain and the cold, the shelter is operating at capacity (85 people), turning some away each night. One-third of the homeless are said to be temporarily without homes, another one-third are mentally ill and the remainder are homeless by choice.
Hundreds of other homeless people, staked out on the South Jetty, may soon be looking for shelter, too. A lawsuit by the county and Pacific Lumber Co., seeking to permanently remove the campers, is moving through local courts.
Louisiana-Pacific Corp. was ordered to pay $27,000 in fines last month because it released concentrated, smelly, sulfur compounds over Eureka during several "start up" operations in the fall.
The chemicals "vented" out an L-P steam stripper. The stripper was installed to comply with court orders requiring cleaner air and water emissions from the plant.
A similar start-up procedure began last month, and the odor problem didn't occur. The company has installed its own direct phone line for public questions and complaints. It's 444-9629.
John and Deborah Biord purchased the historical Eureka Inn last month, after a year-and-a-half of struggling to seal the deal. Estimated to be worth more than $4 million, the federally designated landmark has been in operation for 73 years.
With banquet halls and restaurants, the Inn was always a meeting place. It's still the hub of Eureka, especially during the Christmas season. Owned since 1960 by the late Helen Barnum, the grand structure's fate had been uncertain since her death in July 1993.
EUREKA ATTORNEY DIES
James McKittrick, the "Jimmy the Shark" featured on the cover of the North Coast Journal in January 1993, shot himself to death in late December, ending a career that ran from brilliant to bizarre. The 62-year-old attorney was known at one time as the best defense attorney on the North Coast. But drug dependency and other ailments led to his demise, leaving him plagued by financial and legal troubles.
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