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Surging waters batter Hawaii harbors

    A dock lies destroyed at Haleiwa Boat Harbor on Oahu's North Shore after tsunami surge churned through the islands early yesterday.
    The tsunami destroyed docks and tore boats away from their moorings in Keehi Lagoon, slamming the craft into each other and setting them adrift in the harbor.

Tsunami surges wreaked havoc at three Hawaii small-boat harbors yesterday, damaging about 200 boats and causing an estimated $500,000 in damage at one harbor alone.

There were no deaths or injuries, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The scene in the water was chaotic, especially at Keehi Lagoon where packs of boats tied to broken sections of dock floated like icebergs, occasionally smashing into other boats and structures before they could be rounded up.

Tsunami-related damage triggered by the earthquake off Japan also occurred at Haleiwa Boat Harbor on Oahu’s North Shore and Maalaea Harbor in south-central Maui.

No major damage was reported at Waianae Harbor or to harbors on Kauai. Specific harbor damage assessments weren’t available on Hawaii island.

Coast Guard officials said an estimated 200 boats at Keehi Lagoon were damaged, including one that struck the Sand Island Bridge.

The harbor area in front of La Mariana Sailing Club was estimated to have sustained at least $500,000 in damage, though La Mariana Restaurant and structures on land were unscathed.

Tito Calace, a club maintenance worker, watched the docks overnight from a second-floor lanai above the restaurant.

All was quiet until close to 4 a.m. yesterday when loud creaking and splintering sounds broke the silence.

"The tide was going up and down," Calace said. "All the ropes snapping and the cleats breaking — it was really something."

Two old piers were ripped from their mooring, while a third that had been recently rebuilt escaped major damage and provided relative safety for roughly 30 boats.

Waikiki resident Jim Campbell arrived at 9:30 yesterday morning to find his sailboat, Wai-manalo, submerged up to its gunwales while still tied to a broken mess of battered docks and boats.

The retired Navy captain attempted to bail water with small plastic wastebaskets and an electric pump rigged to a marine battery. But water eventually overcame the bow, and the Waimanalo disappeared beneath the muddy water.

"Bye-bye, Waimanalo," said Campbell sadly.

"It’s a beautiful boat. I’m sorry," said Russ Singer, a dock helper at the club who assisted Campbell with his rescue attempt.

Singer said tidal surges were so strong that boats in the lagoon connected to buoys grounded by 1,000-pound anchors were being dragged around. "It was incredible," he said.

Extensive damage to piers set adrift with many boats also occurred at Keehi Marine Center. No breakaways occurred at docks operated by the state in the lagoon.

At Maalaea Harbor on Maui, two vessels sunk and one overturned, the Coast Guard reported.

In Haleiwa a series of small and powerful surges — as many as 20 — pushed muddy water from the tsunami through the harbor.

When the water receded, some boats tied up in the inside basin were resting in mud. When the water rushed back, the boats rocked and rolled with the churn. On the fourth surge, portions of a floating dock buckled and snapped away from the embankment.

"Just a tremendous amount of water came in, and you could hear it," Paul Sensano, the harbormaster, said of the crumbling dock. "You could hear it crackling — crack, crack, crack."

The floating dock, which is less expensive than a traditional concrete dock, was designed with a tsunami in mind. The dock is supposed to bend and not break. But it broke yesterday, while an older concrete dock nearby survived intact.

With the advance warning about the tsunami Thursday night, some boat captains sailed out to sea to avoid the potential impact zone instead of hoping for a ripple and leaving their vessels in harbors.

Fred Chun took the Lia C, a 32-foot fishing boat named for his daughter — his "bag of diamonds" — out to sea before the tsunami hit.

His slip on the floating dock in Haleiwa was destroyed.

"If I didn’t, oh, man," he said, looking at the damage yesterday morning. "It would probably still be tied up, but I bet it would be pretty busted up."

Star-Advertiser reporters Richard Borreca and Mike Gordon contributed to this report.

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