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Then and Now: Operation Walkout

In 1954, the nuclear bomb was on everyone’s mind. Would the Russians attack without warning? Spokane was chosen as the first city in the nation to attempt a complete evacuation of its downtown area, about 70 square blocks. At 9:35 a.m. on April 26, 1954, following weeks of publicity, sirens on the Old National Bank building echoed through the downtown streets, starting Operation Walkout. Offices, stores and restaurants emptied into a light drizzle and an estimated 18,000 civilians strode purposefully out of the area bounded by Boone, Division, Third and Monroe. Soldiers took up positions in the streets, in tanks and on rooftops. An anti-aircraft gun crew on top of the Newberry’s store fired a handful of blanks. Nurses gathered at designated aid stations. Leaflets bearing the legend “This could have been an H bomb” were sprinkled from bombers. Police surrounded a car driving on closed streets, only to find a TV station employee delivering equipment to a crew. Insurance salesman and war veteran Gene Swift said the sirens and empty streets reminded him of German V-2 rocket attacks he had seen in London. A minute-long siren signaled “all clear” at 10:05. “I should have worn my rubbers,” said one elderly woman to a Spokesman-Review reporter. “If it had been a real raid, we’d have to leave, rain or shine,” said a man standing nearby. – Jesse Tinsley

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