Sound off: When tragedy occurs, we are all one family
April 9, 2010 · Updated 1:09 PM
By Wallie V. Funk
Last Friday at 12:30 a.m., the community was rocked both physically and psychologically by a disastrous explosion and fire at Anacortes’ Tesoro Refinery. And why? It may be many months before there are answers.
We mourn the tragic losses that are still being counted. The reasons are many – human, etc., even God’s wrath. But we’ll leave that last to Rev. Robertson.
Personally, we were devastated when around 4 a.m. that day we were surfing the television channels because we couldn’t sleep. That’s something else. We’re older. At KIRO-7 our surfing stopped. The angry red fireball that filled my screen was at Tesoro. We were off to be a part of the media horde which converged on the scene.
Worldwide, in our present day and back through time, there is a history of cataclysmic disasters over hundreds (maybe millions) of years. Civilizations before us were impacted by earthquakes, fire, flood, terrible accidents and on and on. It points to a simple, yet complex fact – we’re not going to get out of it alive. Bear with us. It is a truth.
The horrific happening at Tesoro last Friday has plunged families, refinery personnel, the town and area into profound sorrow. There is much speculation why it happened. As we wait for answers that won’t “unring a bell,” we are left to mourn those deaths and injuries. Deeply.
Our newspaper life was lived out in two wonderful towns (first Anacortes, my birthplace, and Oak Harbor, 1964-1989). When we sold out our newspaper interests in Oak Harbor, we returned to Anacortes to live out our lives.
During that span, huge tragedies happened: the A-Boat sinkings in the 1980s, which plunged the community into profound despair, and the Equilon disaster that took eight lives. Now Tesoro. We can relate deeply to all of these because we were here. We reported them and we wept. They were all one of us.
Across the bridge, in Oak Harbor where we spent 25 years before selling out and coming back to our first hometown, Anacortes, we were to confront new tragedies – lost airplanes in the Vietnam War and peacetime losses during training missions.
Whatever the reason, that close-knit community (Navy and civilians) also agonized. We were friends and neighbors. We worked and played together, shared joys and sorrows. Because of these deep relationships, Oak Harbor was, rightfully, described as the best military station (all services) in the nation. This was not hyperbole. It was.
A plane that went down with its crew sent the community (the town and all of its people) into shock.
We are reliving those experiences today – different town, but quite related industries – as the Anacortes Tesoro tragedy unfolds. The blame? It will be up to those researching causes of the tragedy. But what we do know – our loss is measured in the human lives the explosion claimed. This we cannot forget. They were doing their jobs. They were friends and neighbors. We know their bereaved families.
This is a red alert. This is an accident which goes into the area’s industrial history book. It leaves an indelible mark.
Nobody wants it to happen again. Here or anywhere. If what took place in the early morning hours at Tesoro can result in a “fix,” such profound accidents will make the industrial world safer, and create a safer workplace for employees. Ideally, then, all of this would not have been in vain.
We were newspapering here when Shell announced it would locate at March Point in 1953, followed by Texaco. It turned the town around economically. Not only that, they both brought unique people who played a huge role in all areas of community life (schools, city government, church, the arts – and on and on).
This is more than a wake-up call to refineries and other industries. To find more answers that will prevent such tragedies in the future should be the goal of refineries and other hazardous industries here and around the world.
Meanwhile we mourn with the families and fellow workers the magnitude of this hometown tragedy. You give so much to us as members of the community.
Having lived in two towns where immense tragedies occurred, we understand. We experience them with you. And every time they were greatly more than “today’s news.” They were personal, deep and very moving.
The oil industry at times is not easy to defend. We pray that things can be done better.
Now the human and divine speculation begins. That is not our point. This is about the people, the plant and the sense of loss that all of us share. It is real. For this reason, we are all next of kin and will remain so.