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California harbor 'destroyed' by tsunami, but damage less severe elsewhere

The tsunami created by Japan's 8.9 earthquake has now hit the West Coast. Early reports suggest that two California towns – Crescent City and Santa Cruz – have been hit hardest.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer, Staff writer / March 11, 2011

A fishing boat lays on its side in shallow water in the boat basin at Crescent City, Calif., after a tsunami surge withdrew Friday.

Jeff Barnard/AP

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Santa Monica, Calif.

The tsunami waves unleashed across the Pacific by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake off the Japan coast have destroyed boats and docks in a few isolated places along America's West Coast, but early reports suggest little widespread damage.

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Crescent City, Calif., near the Oregon border appears to have been hit hardest so far, with the tsunami crushing the city's docks and as many as 35 boats, according to local reports. "The harbor has been destroyed,” City Councilman Rich Enea told the Times-Standard.

Farther down the coast in Santa Cruz, Calif., one 30-foot boat sank, and a dock "just blew up. It buckled and splintered" in the waves, an eyewitness told the San Jose Mercury-News.

Parts of the Hawaiian islands also reported a seven-foot ocean surge – in one case inundating a Big Island hotel lobby – in the early hours of the morning, though things were now "rapidly becoming business as usual across the state," according to the Hawaii Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Many coastal areas of Hawaii, California, and Oregon were evacuated early Friday morning. But as the day wore on, gawkers gathering along the West Coast have claimed that there was little to see. Surfers were even in the water not far from Santa Cruz, the Mercury-News reported.

Yet scientists caution that tsunami waves could continue to grow for as many as 12 hours. Wednesday afternoon, a tsunami warning – which suggests coastal evacuation – remained in effect from Point Concepcion, Calif., north of Santa Barbara to the Oregon-Washington border.

For its part, Crescent City is particularly prone to tsunami damage because the topography of the sea floor off the coast concentrates and funnels waves toward the town. But the appearance of calm along the rest of the West Coast was a significant concern for emergency personnel.

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