California Official Estimates Statewide Tsunami Damage in Excess of $40M

March 15, 2011 - 5:41 AM

California tsunami

A diver prepares a submerged boat for towing in Santa Cruz, Calif., on Monday, March 14, 2011. Engineers are using sonar to scour the bottom of Santa Cruz Harbor for missing vessels sunk by the tsunami triggered by last week's earthquake near Japan. (AP Photo)

Santa Cruz, Calif. (AP) - In the tsunami-battered harbor of this coastal city famous for its surf, Jody Connolly rubbed his red eyes as crews scrambled to pull his 30-foot Trident boat out of the water Monday afternoon.

The hardwood floor contractor had made the vessel his home for the past two years.

Connolly fled the boat when the first, powerful surge of Friday's tsunami rolled in. He watched from land as the boat broke from its moorings and sank while the entire dock crumbled.

"One moment I don't feel anything. The next, I'm completely torn up. It's kind of hitting me in waves, kind of like the tsunami," he said.

As residents like Connolly whose lives and livelihoods depended on the harbor tried to salvage what they could, a California official on Monday estimated that statewide damage from last week's surge exceeds $40 million.

Mike Dayton, acting secretary of the Emergency Management Agency, gave the estimate after touring Santa Cruz Harbor, where 18 vessels sank, about 100 were damaged and another 12 remained unaccounted for.

The damage in Santa Cruz Harbor alone is estimated at $17 million. The harbor is housing 58 commercial fishing vessels not able to leave the harbor for at least a week until it reopens, said Lisa Ekers, director of the Santa Cruz Port District. She said she was also working to get 60 people living on boats back into their homes.

Along the state's North Coast, officials at the heavily damaged Crescent City Harbor were still working on totaling the value of the damage. All told, 53 vessels were damaged, including 15 that sank, said Alexia Retallack, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Fish and Game.

The harbor, which provided berths for more than 100 boats, was virtually destroyed by the waves, she said, devastating the fishing industry in a town where the economy is largely dependent on the day's catch.

A federal team will be in Crescent City later this week to use special sonar equipment to map sunken boats in the harbor.

In Santa Cruz, sonar was already being used to search for missing vessels, and crews worked to pull sunken boats out of the water Monday. Divers jumped into the brown, oil-sheened water and attached inflatable pillows as big as their own bodies to the hulls, then pumped air in them to get the battered boats to float to the top.

Once the sludge-covered vessels made it to the surface, they were hauled ashore into a parking lot where the waiting owner would assess the damage.

Some locals noted that the beaches in Santa Cruz had turned black after the surge. Dennis DeAnda of the California Department of Fish and Game explained: "When a tsunami happens, there was a complete flushing of the harbor and so a lot of sediment was probably pulled out."

Crews in Santa Cruz and Crescent City were deploying boom to block and absorb oil from leaking boats, though no serious impact from such leaks has been reported so far.

State officials are still determining whether to seek federal assistance with rebuilding efforts, Dayton said.