Dec 23, 2007

There ... and gone

Welcome to the neighborhood
A broken door sign greets those who visit the crumbling streets of the Washaway Beach neighborhood

Last Thursday I was sent up to Washaway Beach to shoot for a piece on coastal erosion. Washaway Beach is the name given to a stretch of land near Tokeland that is the fastest eroding beach in north America. Washaway Beach is technically in the town of North Cove, but honestly, due to the erosion, there isn't much left of the town — over 100 homes have been lost, including a lighthouse, many of which in the last 20 years.

About two years ago I was sent there to check out the destruction during a storm that brought some of the highest tides in years. It was on that trip that I met LaDonna Hartke. When she bought her house in 1995 it was located over 140 feet from the edge. On that occasion her front door was about 30 feet or so from the edge after that storm blew through, as you can see in the photo below from Jan. 2006 (that's her house to the right).

I had kept email contact with her every once in awhile, with her writing briefly to say she was still there. She had a great faith in God that he would somehow save her house from being one of the inumberous to be swallowed by the sea. I read in a Seattle Times Article from September that she only had 8 feet left. I also saw in a Seattle Times blog from the week following the storm that her house had finally been taken. So when I set out last Thursday I planned to seek out her house and see what was left.

I found her house, or at least what was left of it. It sat on its side, smashed on the beach, held up only by a rogue tree that had either washed up or been blown over around the same time. I also found one of her son's, Eric, and his fiance, Janey, who were scavenging the beach for whatever belongings they could find. They had lived in the house with LaDonna for a few years and said they just got their marriage license a few weeks ago — right around the time of the storm. The two had been in the house at the time it was taken, running in and out, getting whatever they could at the last minute. Eric said he actually had to drag his mom from the building just moments before it went.

It's amazing to me that people not only still live there, but people are actually still buying lots and homes in the area. I hear beach front property goes for $500 a lot. Not bad, You might have it for a year or two, or maybe not even through the winter. I guess property just a 100 feet or so off the beach can actually fetch in the neighborhood of $100,000 a lot — hey, it might last a couple years, if you're lucky — it loses an average of 65 feet per year since the 1880s. Of course, you can't get insurance for it ... It is amazingly sad to see people trying to literally piece together whatever they can of their lives after something like this. But Eric said, "This is the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one."


** Appendix — After taking another look, here are a few more pix from that day at Washaway Beach

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