TSUNAMI SURGE SMASHES CRESCENT CITY HARBOR

November 15, 2006 11:00 pm
The surge left a sailboat up on a dock in the Crescent City harbor. (Bryant Anderson, the Daily Triplicate).
The surge left a sailboat up on a dock in the Crescent City harbor. (Bryant Anderson, the Daily Triplicate).

By Karen Wilkinson

Triplicate staff writer

A series of small tidal surges slammed into the Crescent City Harbor Wednesday afternoon, destroying two docks, taking chunks out of another and damaging at least 10 boats.

"It was like a river going through here a little while ago," said fisherman Jeff Ruth of the Orca. "I've never seen the tide surge like that ever."

A magnitude 8.1 undersea earthquake that struck Japan's coastline at 3:14 a.m. Pacific time created tidal surges that starting hitting the Crescent City Harbor just before noon.

Fisherman Victor Reneau said the first surge measured about 8 inches, an estimation he recorded because "we were all standing around curious."

Harbormaster Richard Young said he thought the harbor was in the clear after the initial surge, which he'd been warned of earlier in the day.

But some time after 1 p.m. he noticed the water quickly running in and out of the harbor from his harbor office.

"We thought, ‘Gee, look at that, it's the tidal wave,'" Young said jokingly.

Shortly thereafter, he saw that H dock had broken in half, so he jumped up and helped secure a floating boat.

Young said H and G docks were completely destroyed and F dock was "severely damaged."

Though it's still too early to give an exact figure, Young said replacement costs of the docks could range from $400,000 to $600,000 range.

Other reports estimated the damage as high as $700,000.

"We're going to have a lot of work to do," he said. "So it's going to be very expensive."

On top of the damaged docks, between 10 and 15 boats were damaged and 10 had to be resecured.

The rate and speed that the waters rushed did more damage than the size of the surges, Young said.

"It didn't even look like a wave — the water was just raising and falling rapidly," he said. "It was the rate of change rather than the magnitude of change."

Fisherman John Hale said the surge came in quietly, without warning. "It was just a little wave, then all of a sudden (stuff) started falling apart," he said.

Lori Dengler, chairwoman of the Humboldt State University geology department, said the largest surge measured five feet.

"And it occurred at low tide, which was nice — very polite of it so far," she said. "The Crescent City Harbor is just the right size and shape to get excited when tsunamis come."

More than just the harbor got excited by the damage the surges inflicted.

Local residents flocked to the harbor just after the dock damage occurred, flying through the parking lot in cars while onlookers snapped photos and took video recordings. Others stood around relaying messages to friends and family via cell phone.

Lester Cramer, who owns a boat but parks it out of the water, agreed that the surge was eerie.

"I've lived here for 39 years, and this is the first time I've seen anything like that," he said.