SITKA, Alaska — When tsunami warning sirens started blaring early the morning of Jan. 23, some Sitkans continued to slumber peacefully, while others scrambled to stuff a few belongings into a bag and evacuate to higher ground.
Sentinel staff took to the streets to ask people what they took with them as they fled their homes in the middle of the night, and how those spur-of-the-moment choices resonated with them hours later when they unpacked in daylight.
At the Back Door, Bailey Craig said she travelled light, taking only a few of her most precious possessions with her when she evacuated to a family member’s house.
“I grabbed my iPad and my cat,” she said.
Craig’s co-worker, Sotera Perez, on the other hand, took a more comprehensive approach when packing for herself and her family, revealing her ability to think clearly in a crisis: they set out for the Sitka High School evacuation center with two changes of clothes, passports, cash, water, blankets, enough food for 24 hours and extra coats.
Next door, Dan Gunn stood behind the cashier counter at Old Harbor Books and detailed his indecision in the first few minutes after he received an alert about the tsunami warning on his phone.
“I had planned on staying home, and then the sirens started, and we changed our minds,” he said.
In the end, he, too, went to the high school, taking a few choice items with him.
“We brought a picture in a frame, a change of clothes, and my computer … and maybe some snacks,” he said.
Alaire Hughey said her instincts on what to reach for seemed less reasonable the following day.
“I freaked out. I panicked,” she said. “I almost grabbed some of my plants.”
Hughey said she changed her clothes “like seven times” before settling on a “Cosby sweater,” grabbing her computer and charger, and heading to a friend’s house.
Eileen Chanquet, Sitka Chamber of Commerce membership coordinator, said she experienced a similar feeling of panic when parsing her possessions.
“After 2013’s earthquake, I was bouncing off the walls trying to figure out, ‘What should I get? What should I get?'” she said.
She ultimately settled on packing a change of clothes, some toiletries, and her medications.
Not everyone in Sitka experienced those same semi-conscious moments of stress, however; some, like Brian Massey, even stayed put and went back to sleep.
He said when the sirens began to sound the alarm, the noise simply blended into his dream.
“I was dreaming about some airplane accident on the runway,” he said.
When he eventually woke up, he checked on the various members of his household, as well as family members elsewhere in Sitka via phone, before getting back in bed.
“I live at high ground,” he said. “I went back to bed hoping the sirens would turn off so I could get some sleep.”
Information from: Daily Sitka (Alaska) Sentinel, http://www.sitkasentinel.com/