Crescent City Harbor Suffers Up To $700K in Tsunami Damages

November 17, 2006

The National Weather Service lifted a tsunami advisory hours before powerful waves damaged docks and tore boats from their moorings in Northern California. Forecasters said they were wary of causing chaos along the coast.

“The waves were just small enough where we didn’t want to panic everybody because it was very localized effects,” said Dave Reynolds, a Monterey-based weather service meteorologist.

The five-foot surge, triggered by a powerful earthquake off the coast of Japan, entered Crescent City’s Harbor Wednesday afternoon, destroying two docks and severely damaging a third. No injuries were reported, but damage estimates were put at $700,000.

Richard Young, harbor master in the town about 20 miles south of the Oregon line, noticed a fast-moving current that he described as a “river within the ocean.”

Some 400 miles to the south, waves pounded the Santa Cruz yacht harbor all afternoon, causing several boats to break away from their moorings and capsizing a small sailboat.

“It wasn’t wave action,” Reynolds said. “It was the current that caused the damage. This is almost like a fast-moving river of water that is coming in, so … it’s the currents that toss the boats around.”

Surges of up to six feet were observed from Port San Luis on the Central California coast to the Oregon border, according to the weather service.

The 8.1-magnitude undersea quake prompted tsunami warnings for Japan, Russia and Alaska, but those were lifted after waves that hit Japan turned out to be much smaller than forecasted. One swimmer suffered minor cuts when surges hit Waikiki Beach in Hawaii.

“No tsunami danger exists for Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon or California,” the National Weather Service said in an advisory issued Wednesday at 6:41 a.m. PST. “However some areas may experience small sea level changes.”

Weather service officials phoned authorities in Del Norte County, in far northern California, to warn them that harbors in the region were particularly susceptible, Reynolds said.

In Crescent City, crews worked in the rain to stabilize the damaged docks and secure boats knocked loose by the waves.

The town is familiar with the power of ocean surges.

A 1964 tsunami washed away 11 people — the only tsunami to take lives in the continental United States.

That tsunami’s largest wave was about 21 feet tall, and the surge destroyed or damaged 91 houses and 172 businesses and washed out roads and bridges, power lines and sewage systems. The fuel tanks at the local Texaco plant burned for four days and some businesses caught fire.

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