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The Nation

March 13, 2011

Tsunami surge deals blow to struggling Calif. town

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. — Harbor crews are assessing the damage caused by powerful tsunami surges that pounded this northern California port, sinking or damaging dozens of boats and wreaking havoc on port facilities.

"This harbor is the lifeblood of our community," Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson said as he scanned the wreckage from waves touched off by a massive earthquake in Japan late last week.

Last year saw landings of crab and fish worth $12.5 million. "The fishing industry is the identity and soul of this community, besides tourism," he said Saturday.

The region has never recovered from the loss of the timber industry in the 1980s and 1990s, and downturns in salmon fishing, said Wilson, who fished on his father's boats as a young man.

A series of powerful surges generated by the quake arrived about 7:30 a.m. Friday and pounded the harbor. Eight boats were believed sunk and dozens of others damaged; an unmanned sailboat sucked out of the harbor ran aground on the coast.

Crews are beginning the enormous task of determining and then repairing the damage to the port, where a sheen of oil floated in the basin. Seagulls feasted on mussels exposed by upended docks. About 80 percent of the docks that once sheltered 140 boats were gone.

"Our port is struggling," said Kevin Wilson, manager of Nor-Cal Seafood Inc. "Since the last tsunami in '06, they secured the funds to fix it, and this took away all the stuff they were gonna build off."

Crab fisherman Lee Wilson returned to find his boat, the Gold Coast, mostly unscathed. It has survived its second tsunami — the first, a 1964 swarm that killed 11 in the city, had pushed it up on the rocks of the break wall.

Despite the severity of the damage that has drawn curious onlookers to survey the port even in the rain, Kevin Wilson has returned to business. He bought crab from fishermen who decided to work after leaving in the early Friday darkness to escape the waves.

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