The earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale that has left upwards of 1700 dead in Japan (according to CNN) set a powerful tsunami in motion whose effects are being felt 5000 miles across the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii and California. Both states issued tsunami warnings on Friday and, while the damage wrought is far less than that in Japan, at least one person has died in California and millions of dollars of harbors, boats and much else has been destroyed.
SFGate reports that one of three men who had gone to take photos near the mouth of the Klamath River in Del Norte County swept into the ocean. The two other men tried to rescue their friend but were not able to. The man’s name was not immediately released; his friends were able to make it back to shore.
Del Norte County is some 350 miles north of San Francisco. Wendy Malone, spokeswoman for the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, said that no structural damage occurred to buildings or houses, but the docks are considered a total loss. In 1964, 11 died when a tsunami hit Crescent City.
The most severe damage occurred in Santa Cruz and to the north in Crescent City:
Bruce Bruno, 73, of La Selva Beach came to the Santa Cruz harbor Friday morning to check on his salmon fishing boat, Pezdela, and wound up watching the destructive tableau unfold. As he looked on helplessly, a yacht slammed into his Pezdela, smashing the engines.
“It was surreal,” Bruno said. “At first, the waves looked like nothing, and then all of a sudden they started hitting the pier on the north side and the boats lifted up – and then the piers started ripping apart.
“From there, the ocean just tore everything up. It was very dramatic.”
20 boats were destroyed and more than 100 damaged in Santa Cruz.
Here’s a video of boats in the marina in Santa Cruz being thrown about like toy boats by the waves.
Elsewhere in California, thousands were evacuated to higher ground in Watsonville, Humboldt County, the San Mateo County coast and other areas. In San Francisco, the Great Highway was closed for most of the day and reopened in the late afternoon, with no significant damage reported. Ocean Beach, Baker Beach, China Beach, parts of the Presidio and Crissy Field as well as Fort Funston were all closed. Schools closed in Pacifica, where the beach was also closed.
According to the New York Times, earthquakes like the one that occurred in Japan usually generate two tsunamis, one occurring minutes afterwards at the nearest coastline and another that can occur thousands of miles in the opposite direction:
The wave that hits the nearby coastline first is usually the most destructive, said Eric Geist, a scientist with the United States Geological Survey. But with the tsunamis that head out to sea, some of the energy dissipates as the wave spreads outward across open ocean, like a ripple from a rock thrown into a pond. Coastal features can then either reduce or amplify some of the energy as the wave reaches land.
“Once the first wave hits the coastline, it gets very complicated,” Dr. Geist said.
Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that the worst of the waves passed along California’s coastline by late afternoon on Friday, but people were still warned not to go to the shore at least until Saturday morning. The waves crashed onto the shore in Emeryville across the bay from San Franciscoas you can see in this video. It’s a place I’ve often walked at—but not with all that water.
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