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Tsunami Surges in Bay Area Mostly Minor, But Some Impacts Felt

Gov. Brown declares state of emergency for four counties; Coast Guard suspends search for man swept out to sea

Updated March 11, 2011 at 6:51 p.m with information on the Coast Guard's search for a missing man

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Friday afternoon for Del Norte, Humboldt, San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties following a tsunami, caused by a major earthquake off the coast of Japan, that damaged ports and harbors up and down the coast.

Crescent City near the Oregon border was the hardest hit with boats destroyed and people swept out to sea. The Santa Cruz harbor was also hit hard. Most of the Bay Area, however, escaped unscathed. 

KTVU reported that Santa Cruz's Inner Harbor took a beating, as the tide pulled back some eight inches in a five-minute period, causing boats to be ripped from their moorings and docks to be torn loose and smashed.

Ocean Beach

The Coast Guard also flew over the coastlines monitoring shorelines from Drake's Bay to Monterey. Their air station in Humboldt Bay had three MH-65 Dolphin helicopters scanning the Crescent City area shorelines and observed damage to docks and piers.

As of 1:30 p.m., their surveying had tallied up the damage to boats along the California coast: 20 to 30 were damaged in the Crescent City Harbor and six were either sunk or overturned in the Santa Cruz Harbor. Also, the Santa Cruz Harbor was evacuated because of an oil sheen leakingfrom the overturned ships.

There were earlier reports of foot-high surges rolling into Richardson Bay, Sausalito.

San Francisco police officials told The Bay Citizen at 8:30 a.m. that whatever impacts were coming for the city were essentially over.

View over Sutro Baths near Cliff House

At Rockaway beach in Pacifica, surfers were debating whether to get their boards, but the consenus was no, because the hoped-for waves  had not materialized.

At Berkeley marina in the East Bay, people gathered to watch for any signs of tsunami but there was little to see, only a possible surge line of minimal size.

Friday morning, crews from the Northern California Coast Guard were taking a close look at conditions in San Francisco's port and evaluating ships coming in. Ships are being prohibited from transferring hazardous cargo, the coast guard said. 

The swells were more severe in Northern California. The Coast Guard announced at 6:20 p.m. Friday that it had suspended the search for a man who was swept out to sea near the Klamath River. The man had traveled to the shore with two friends to snap some photos of the incoming tsunami, but they were dragged into the water instead. Two of the men swam to the shore, but the third went missing, according the Coast Guard, which used helicopters and a lifeboat to search more than 250 square miles of ocean and shoreline.

The coast guard urged "mariners" and others planning to be near or on the water to take the following precautions:

Check with the local harbormaster for marina evacuations and to make preparations for the possibility of a surge.

Mooring lines for vessels should be doubled-up.

People living or visiting tsunami warning areas should be prepared to evacuate.

People should stay away from beaches, jetties, and low lying rock areas.

The tsunami warning was in effect for the entire West Coast of the U.S. following the huge earthquake off Japan Thursday night, and coastal communities around the Bay Area prepared for a tsunami wave to hit a little after 8:00 a.m.

In San Francisco, the Great Highway was closed as a precaution and waves were expected to hit the Golden Gate at 8:08 a.m. Beaches and some low-lying areas in San Mateo County have been evacuated.

Berkeley watches for tsunami

In Pacifica and Half Moon Bay, thousands or residents have fled for higher ground and are jamming Highway 92 and Skyline Drive. Similar voluntary evacuations were underway in Santa Cruz County.

Police have established check-points near the beaches in Pacifica but no mandatory evacuations are in place. Schools are also closed there.

The National Weather Service is estimating waves in the Bay Area will reach heights of 2 to 3 feet, but waves as high as 8 feet are possible at Crescent City in Northern California, officials said.

San Francisco's Department of Emergency Management activated the city's Emergency Management Agency this morning and is assessing risk to coastal areas, department officials said. Mayor Ed Lee, in a morning press conference, urged people not to panic and said the impacts were expected to be modest, but said city officials were taking precautions. 

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