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December 9, 2007 at 4:59 PM

They don’t call it Washaway Beach for nothing

NORTH COVE — In September, reporter Jonathan Martin wrote a story about Washaway Beach, a stretch of coast 12 miles south of Westport that is believed to be the fastest-eroding beach on the Pacific Coast.

In last week’s storm, the ocean took at least one more home. Ladonna Hartke, owner of a blue, four-bedroom house with a two-car garage and an amazing view of the water, was the latest victim.

Here is the “before” photo, taken by Times staff photographer Steve Ringman for the September story:

ladonna2.jpg

Here is a picture I took today:

washaway 010.jpg

I found Hartke next to the house, almost standing guard. She had made a makeshift camp, helped by her son and his girlfriend who also live on the property. A blue tarp hung overhead, and a claw-foot bathtub had been placed on its side. A fire burned in the tub where a frozen pizza was warming.

Belongings were strewn everywhere. Living-room furniture was underneath the tarp. A lemon lay on the ground next to a battered head of lettuce.

There was no evidence of where the two-car garage had been; Hartke’s red minivan was swept off in the waves and landed down the beach. Several cars and camper vans had been destroyed by falling trees.

To give you a sense of how unusual this portion of the coastline is, let me quote Martin’s story that ran three months ago:

“This two miles of shoreline at the northern confluence of the Pacific Ocean and Willapa Bay, 12 miles south of Westport, is believed to be the fastest-eroding beach on the Pacific Coast. It has lost about 65 feet a year to the sea since the late 1800s. More than 100 homes, including the entire town of North Cove, have already disappeared, many of them in the past 20 years.”

On Sunday night, the Hartke family, including her two sons, 18 and 33, and her oldest son’s girlfriend, went to sleep as usual. Yes, the winds were howling, and the waves were enormous, but life 30 feet from the ocean is often like that, Hartke said.

Just before sunrise, the household woke up to water at the doorstep. The ground had been eaten away from underneath the house. For two years, the water has been at least eight feet away from the bank, and Monday the family couldn’t step out their front door.

They started removing their possessions, storing them in nearby trailers and in neighbors’ houses.

“I’ve lived here for 12 years, and it happened in three hours,” Hartke said. “I had faith that it would stay because I wasn’t ready to leave.”

She had 100 boxes packed from previous storms, and she had started to pack more boxes the day before, but she didn’t take the additional step of hauling them away.

She even lost six of her 12 chickens.

For now, she is staying in a motel. Her next move is uncertain.

At times like these, you think the worst.

“I lost a home. Hopefully I’m covered by insurance. If not, I’ll probably be on welfare the rest of my life,” she said. “My friends told me ‘don’t worry, you are going to be there for years.’ I wanted to believe it, and I did.”

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