Tribal Government & News

Casino becomes ‘safe haven’ from possible tsunami

03.15.2011 Ron Karten Public safety, Spirit Mountain Casino

Smoke Signals editor

Spirit Mountain Casino became an impromptu emergency shelter for more than 300 Oregon coastal residents fleeing Lincoln City and other low-lying areas on Friday, March 11, after a tsunami warning was issued for most of the western United States' coastline.

"We had a pretty crazy and interesting morning," said Tribal member and Spirit Mountain Casino Director of Security Joann Mercier. "Many people came to Spirit Mountain and found it to be a safe haven. Many people came with their families, seeking shelter, food and comfort."

In response, casino employees obtained cots, blankets and pillows from Spirit Mountain Lodge for their guests, and opened up the Cedar Plank Buffett early to feed them. The Rock Creek Deli was filled to capacity with people waiting to get in, Mercier said.

Playing cards also were distributed to those who wanted to pass the time playing cards and "lots and lots of coffee" was kept brewing for those who needed it.

"We opened up the sports bar so they could watch all the updates on all the TVs," Mercier said. "Everyone was very interested in what was going on both in Japan and locally."

The Mountain View Sports Bar features 17 46-inch high-definition flat screen TVs.

The tsunami warning was caused by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan. Oregon coastal residents were subsequently asked to evacuate low-lying areas in the early morning on Friday, leaving many wondering where to seek refuge.

Around noon Friday, state officials announced that it was OK for coastal residents to return to their homes.

Grand Ronde is on the east side of the Coast Range off state Highway 18, a main route between the Willamette Valley and the Oregon Coast.

Mercier, who is a Tribal Elder, said the casino's impromptu hospitality continues the Tribe's well-known tradition of potlatch - sharing with those in need. In the past, the Tribe has made substantial humanitarian donations to help Indian Ocean tsunami victims and Haitian earthquake survivors.

"The staff assisted in every way possible to help these people and make them as comfortable as possible," Mercier added.