Cleanup Begins After Santa Cruz Tsunami Surge; Damage Estimated At $17M

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(Photo: AP Images)

(Photo: AP Images)

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SANTA CRUZ (CBS/AP/KCBS) — Work crews were busy hauling up sunken boats and pulling debris and trash out of Santa Cruz Harbor after boats were sunk and harbor facilities damaged during Friday’s tsunami.

Port Director Lisa Ekers says the tsunami caused at least $17.1 million in damage to harbor facilities, and another $4 million to private boats.

Figures are expected to rise as city officials are still assessing both the monetary and environmental damage.

Ekers says salvage crews have found 18 boats “sitting on the bottom” while dozens of other boats were badly damaged after smashing into each other or getting hit by debris.  Four boats were lost at sea.

In addition, a dock-load of high end rowing boats and kayaks was washed away, and dozens more boats that smashed into each other, or were hit by debris, are going to need major repairs.

One dock, with about 40 boats tied up to it, was completely ripped out during Friday’s surges.

The Coast Guard and the California Department of Fish and Game are working together to contain some fuel spills, but there wasn’t any visible damage to wildlife.

Boons have been set up in the closed harbor and sections of the U-dock that was half destroyed, was pulled up and is sitting on the cement near the dock. Meanwhile, an assessment is underway regarding when and how boats, some of which are upside down, will be raised.

The Coast Guard also set up a safety zone in Santa Cruz, asking  the public to stay away from the port while crews investigate the  environmental impact and facilitate clean-up.

“It’s still unsafe for mariners to transit in and out (the harbor)  because of debris,” McKinnon said. “The sunken vessels pose a risk to  navigation, and there’s pollution that may be in the water.”

Some boat owners are understanding, but still frustrated, that they don’t have access to their property. In some cases they live on their boats and not only have lost their craft, but their home.

Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark said that in addition to evacuating residents in low lying areas, his officers had to do a lot of crowd control Friday as residents gathered along the harbor to watch boats tossed around in the nine foot swells.

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

Paul Horvat, the county’s Emergency Services Manager, said his agency was planning community meetings for the city of Watsonville, where a panicked evacuation Friday emptied schools and jammed roads.

On a boat ride through the middle of the harbor, Assistant Harbormaster Larry White pointed to buckled piers, snapped masts and hulls of flipped boats bobbing in the brown, pungent water, which continues to rise and fall in usually strong swells generated in Japan.

He shook his head remembering the moment Friday when the tsunami first sucked the water out of the harbor out to sea, a sudden 9-foot drop.

“It was like the earth opening up,” he said. “It was incredible.”

Local officials are keeping a close eye on Japan this weekend. Aftershocks, they know, could cause another tidal surge.

Meanwhile, the tsunami advisory has been canceled for all coastal areas from the California-Oregon border through Southern California.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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