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Tsunami sweeps 5 to sea, rips out California docks

1:18 AM, Mar 12, 2011   |    comments
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CRESCENT CITY, CA (AP) - A tsunami swept at least five people watching the waves out to sea Friday and ripped docks out of harbors in California and Oregon, spreading the destruction of a devastating Japanese earthquake to the shores of the United States.

Four people were rescued from the water in southern Oregon, but one man who was taking photos in Northern California was still missing Friday afternoon and presumed dead. Coast Guard helicopters searched for him near the mouth of the Klamath River in Del Norte County, Calif.,  but suspended their search after more than seven hours over the cold, rough ocean.

The large waves shook loose boats and tore apart docks in at least two California harbors and one in Oregon, causing millions of dollars of damage.

A man was found dead aboard a commercial vessel in Brookings, but sheriff's officials said it appeared to be from natural causes.

"This is just devastating. I never thought I'd see this again," said Ted Scott, a retired mill worker who lived in Crescent City when a 1964 tsunami killed 17 people on the West Coast, including 11 in his town. "I watched the docks bust apart. It buckled like a graham cracker."

The waves didn't make it over a 20-foot break wall protecting the rest of the city, and no home damage was immediately reported.

Del Norte County sheriff's spokesman Bill Stevens said most boats were pulled out of the harbor in preparation for Friday's tsunami, but 35 vessels that remained were crashing into one another and sinking.

The wooden docks also were breaking apart under the force of the waves.

Crescent City Councilwoman Kelly Schellong said the docks and harbor "are pretty much completely destroyed."

According to Brad Alexander with Cal EMA, in Del Norte County 8,000 people were evacuated. No homes believed to have been damaged but the commercial area of town was flooded. The flooding was but not particularly destructive.

Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz region experienced several surges in the harbor Friday morning following tsunami warnings that sucked some boats right out of the harbor.

Alexander said Santa Cruz County evacuated 6,000 people. There was an estimated $4.5 million in damage to private property (mostly boats) and $10 million in damage to harbor facilities.

San Mateo County

Port and harbor facilities in San Mateo County were damaged, the extent and exact location unknown, said Alexander.

Ft. Bragg 

Noyo harbor at Ft. Bragg on the Mendocino coast was evacuated Friday morning, according to local emergency officials. No damage had been reported.

San Luis Obispo County

Alexander said Port San Luis in San Luis Obispo County (Avila Beach) also sustained some damage, the extent unknown.

The Associated Press and News10/KXTV

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