Caltrans commemorates 1964 Flood for 50th anniversary

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EUREKA- Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of one of the largest disasters to hit Northern California, the 1964 Flood.

To mark the occasion, Caltrans held a commemorative event at its Eureka office, where officials spoke about how despite the weather 50 years ago, the community shined.

"We were truly closed off to the rest of the state and the rest of the country.  We were on our own," said Caltrans District 1 Director Charles Fielder.

The 1964 Christmas Flood cost 30 lives in Humboldt County, $100 million of damage, including the destruction of more than 100 bridges.  Curt Wood lived in Weott at the time and says the flood was a life changing experience.  He spoke about what sticks out the most his experience.

"The force of the water.  What it did to the buildings.  How fast it came up.  How slow it went down.  Then, what was left afterwards, the destruction," said Wood.

Wood also remembers how the community came together during the crisis.

"People worked together.  There were a lot of volunteers and we just were able to get along," Wood said.

It took months for critical services to be restored in many areas of the North Coast and the Caltrans District 1 Director says teamwork made that possible.

"Many agencies, federal, state and local, the counties and cities worked together and pulled their resources to reestablish the critical services that are needed to continue the lives.  We talk about some of the unfortunate lives that were lost during this event.  We really should be looking at the number of lives that were saved," said Fielder.

Caltrans officials say that today, the agency is more prepared to handle an emergency like the 1964 Christmas Flood. 

"We've learned a lot of things from the floods that we've experienced, both 1955 and 1964.  We design our roads to withstand more severe events now.  We design our infrastructure, facilities and bridges to withstand that," said Brad Mettam, the Deputy District 1 Director.

Another reason, Mettam says, is improvements to equipment.

"Some of them are used to maintain a facility so that it doesn't actually fail.  For example, we have large vactor trucks, which actually can vacuum out culverts so that the culvert doesn't clog up and fail and take the roadway with it.  We also have much newer and much more efficient equipment to deal with large slides.  We have ways of putting in barriers to create catchment areas that rocks will stay away from the cars," Mettam said.