ASTORIA, Ore. — An effort is underway to turn an old World War II landing ship into a critical life-saving tool in the event of a major earthquake.
Scientists agree a destructive earthquake could strike off Oregon's coast at any time.
The quake, originating along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, would wipe out roads, bridges and rail lines.
The Columbia River would become a highway to move goods and emergency supplies.
That's where the Salvage Chief comes in.
"When the Astoria Bridge and the Longview Bridge collapse the only vessel to clear the channel will be the Salvage Chief," said Salvage Chief director Floyd Holcom. "There's nothing like it on the river."
For more than 50 years the Salvage Chief helped clean up shipwrecks up and down the West Coast.
"The Salvage chief is one of the most famous vessels in the world in rescuing vessels that have wrecked on the shores of the United States," Holcom said.
Now, docked off Astoria, it is used mostly for training, but members of the Salvage Chief Foundation are trying to raise money to turn it into an floating emergency response vessel.
Not only will the ship be able to clear wreckage and allow other emergency vessels to make it up river, the five massive generators on board can provide needed power when lines are down.
"We can darn near light up Astoria almost, we can give them a lot of power," said Chief Engineer Dean Lackey.
The ship also has a water purification system to give people clean drinking water if their municipal system goes down.
The ship even has a pad for helicopters to land to drop off supplies or help with rescues.
"There is no vessel out there capable of doing this," said Holcom.
Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would allocate $1.9 million to fix and update the ship so that when the mega quake strikes it will be ready.
"In reality there is no tool for an emergency for this event that is supposed to be 125 years past due," said Holcom. "This ship will save lives."