'Down it went right there'
- Cliff Newell
- West Linn Tidings - News
When a tsunami sank his schooner on March 11, Robert Butson lost everything he owned.
He now hopes federal assistance can restore at least some of his losses.
'I'm going back to Brookings tomorrow,' Butson said on Monday. 'Right now I don't know if I qualify for aid of any kind.'
However, Butson, a Lake Oswego native who has strong family ties in West Linn, is more hopeful than he was a week ago.
On Monday, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber sent a formal request to President Barack Obama asking for a Federal Disaster Declaration for Curry County, which suffered an estimated $10 to $13 million in damage from the tsunami that devastated Japan and rolled all the way west to the Oregon Coast.
State and federal disaster assessment teams estimated damages at $6.7 million to the Port of Brookings Harbor. Curry County meets the state's criteria to request federal disaster assistance.
Any help will mean a lot to Butson, who had no insurance on his boat, which was also his home. On March 11 he had gotten up early in the morning, turned on his TV and watched a weather channel report about the tsunami in Japan.
'I thought, 'That's quite a big deal,'' Butson said.
He then drove downtown and stood on a hill to observe the big waves heading toward shore. Within hours the tsunami was spreading toward Oregon, right at the Brookings area.
Later, Butson had a perfect view of the crucial moment when the tsunami snapped the pilings holding down the boat dock, which allowed his classic 92-foot schooner, named The Lion's Whelp, and many other boats to be torn loose.
Butson was soon trying to prevent his schooner, which was built in 1929, from incurring extensive damage from the giant wave.
Mother Nature moved too quickly. When Butson went down below deck, he found that a foot of water had already poured in from the basketball-sized hole poked into the side of his craft. He managed to get ashore just before The Lion's Whelp went under the surface.
Of his brief time on the boat before it sank, Butson said, 'It was the only ride I ever got to go on after I bought it. It hadn't even moved.
'I lost everything I have except the clothes on my back and my dog.'
Butson thought he may have been witnessing the end of his dreams. He had spent many years in the commercial fishing business, and a year ago he had purchased the schooner with the intention of making it his home.
'How it's going to be removed from the harbor is anybody's guess,' Butson said.
However, if Obama responds to Kizhaber's request, the big schooner could rise again. Butson and dozens of other boat owners might be receiving help.
'Federal assistance to Curry County will help us take a big step toward rebuilding the port and getting Oregonians back to work,' Kitzhaber said.
The following state assistance has already been secured for Curry County:
--- Business Oregon suspended Port of Brooking Harbor debt payments.
--- Business Oregon identified a $40,000 recovery grant for engineering expenses related to dock reconstruction.
--- Business Oregon set aside $500,000 to be used with future FEMA funding for Port of Brookings-Harbor reconstruction.
--- The Oregon Marine Board is working closely with the port to identify what equipment it needs to begin surveying water depth.
Butson is the son of David Butson, who lives in West Linn. Since the ordeal, he has spent time with family in West Linn and Tigard and with his girlfriend in Estacada.
'I pass myself around a little bit,' he said. 'I have to drive back down, though, to collect my stuff.'