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Tsunami surges onto U.S. West Coast, 1 missing, boats crushed


(Bloomberg)—The U.S. Coast Guard said it was searching for a person swept out to sea in northern California as tsunami waves reached the western U.S., prompting evacuations of some coastal areas and damaging boats and docks.

Communities from southern Oregon to Los Angeles were warned to brace for swells after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan.

The Coast Guard said a unit on Humboldt Bay was searching for a man swept away by a wave near the Klamath River, about 20 miles south of Crescent City, Calif., where damage was heavy.

“Our harbor has been destroyed,” said Scott Feller, a harbor commissioner in Crescent City, a logging and fishing town of about 7,600. “We have 35 boats that have been crushed or stacked up on each other that didn't leave the harbor. Our dock has been destroyed.”

Crescent City was the site of a 1964 tsunami that killed 11 people and has often been struck by giant waves in the past.

South of San Francisco, waves caused $2 million to $3 million in damage to docks and vessels in Santa Cruz's small-boats harbor, according to Enrique Sahagun, the county information officer.

The tsunami's effect in the U.S. was blunted as it hit at the lowest tide point of the day, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement. It had early predicted waves of between two to three feet high around San Francisco and as much as five feet near Santa Cruz.

That prompted law enforcement in Santa Cruz to recommend that residents in some areas evacuate to higher ground, while San Francisco police shut a four-mile stretch of highway that runs along the city's western edge. The Port of Los Angeles temporarily suspended some cargo operations.

Japan earthquake

“What we’re telling people is it depends on the locality, it depends on the ocean floor and the first wave is not always the largest,” said a spokesman for NOAA in Washington.

The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center raised an alert for the West Coast of the U.S. after the strongest earthquake on record for Japan unleashed waves that killed hundreds of people and submerged towns on the Asian nation’s northern coast.

Santa Cruz’s emergency operations center notified 6,600 residents who live near the coast to evacuate their homes.

The coastal communities of Pacifica and Half Moon Bay closed schools Friday as a precaution. Five of the schools were designated evacuation centers.

Hawaii was hit by a 4.6-foot wave, according to scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which was anticipating scattered damage, not major destruction.

Tsunamis are giant waves caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions under the sea. They typically hit the shore as a series of waves over a period of 10 to 12 hours.

Copyright 2011 Bloomberg

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