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2 California harbors hit hard

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    Damaged boats littered the basin yesterday in Crescent City, Calif., after Friday's tsunami sent repeated surges that broke up docks and tore loose boats.

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. » Fishermen who had escaped to sea before the tsunami hit this struggling coastal town landed small loads of crab yesterday, while crews surveyed damage and a family combed the beach for any sign of a man who was swept away Friday as he photographed the waves.

"This harbor is the lifeblood of our community and the soul of our community," said Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson as he looked across what was left of the Crescent City boat basin, which last year saw landings of crab and fish worth $12.5 million.

The region has never recovered from the loss of the timber industry in the 1980s and 1990s, and downturns in salmon fishing, said Wilson, who fished on his father’s boats as a young man.

"It’s going to be hard to recover here," he said.

A series of powerful surges generated by the devastating earthquake in Japan arrived about 7:30 a.m. Friday and pounded the harbor through the day and night. Eight boats were believed sunk and dozens of others damaged; an unmanned sailboat sucked out of the harbor ran aground on the coast.

About 20 miles south, the family of a 25-year-old Oregon man combed the beach looking for signs of him. Authorities say Dustin Weber was swept away as he and two friends photographed the waves.

"He just didn’t respect the ocean and didn’t understand the tsunami," said his father, Jon Weber.

In Crescent City, crews geared up for the enormous task of assessing and fixing the damage to the port. About 80 percent of the docks that once sheltered 140 boats were gone.

For the crews tasked with repairs, it would be a longer wait. Divers could not go into the water and work boats could not maneuver until the tsunami surges end, said Alexia Retallack, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Game. Officials were keeping a close eye on Japan through the weekend, in case aftershocks cause another ocean surge.

About 350 miles south in Santa Cruz, the only other California harbor hard-hit by the waves, the commercial fishing industry was minimally affected. Most of the 850 boats were pleasure boats, including 60 that are lived in full time.

Port Director Lisa Ekers said the tsunami caused at least $17.1 million in damage to the harbor, and another $4 million to private boats. Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency declaration for the harbor, which can expedite funding for repairs.

Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark said that in addition to evacuating residents in low-lying areas, his officers had to perform crowd control as townspeople gathered to watch the swells.

"A tsunami watch doesn’t mean go watch the tsunami," he said.


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