Image: A loose boat slams into another in the boat basin at Crescent City, Calif.
JEFF BARNARD  /  AP
Driven by the force of a tsunami surge, a loose boat slams into another in the boat basin at Crescent City, Calif., on Friday.
updated 6/28/2013 7:19:38 PM ET 2013-06-28T23:19:38

Fishermen who had escaped to sea before the tsunami hit this struggling coastal town landed small loads of crab on Saturday while curious townsfolk came to survey the damage and cleanup crews readied their gear.

"This harbor is the lifeblood of our community and the soul of our community," said Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson as he looked across what was left of the boat basin. "The fishing industry is the identity and soul of this community, besides tourism.

"It's going to be hard to recover here."

A series of powerful surges generated by the devastating earthquake in Japan arrived here at about 7:30 a.m. Friday and pounded the harbor through the day and night.

Waves funneled into the sheltered docks created furious currents that heaved up docks, broke loose boats, and sent them careening around like billiard balls. Eight are believed sunk, and one damaged. An unmanned sailboat sucked out of the harbor ran aground on the coast.

On Saturday, a sheen of oil floated on the water in the basin, seagulls feasted on mussels exposed by upended docks, and sea lions barked. About 80 percent of the docks that once sheltered 140 boats were gone.

Cleanup crews were assembling, but divers could not go into the water and workboats could not maneuver until the tsunami surges were completely done, said Alexia Retallack, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Game.

Disaster at a glance

Meanwhile, a 25-year-old man washed out to sea while taking pictures of the waves at the mouth of the Klamath River was identified by the sheriff as Dustin Weber of Bend, Ore.

About 350 miles south in Santa Cruz, the only other California harbor hard hit by the Friday's waves, the commercial fishing industry was minimally affected. Most of the 850 boats that dock in Santa Cruz are pleasure boats, including 60 which are lived in full time.

Early Saturday, cranes began hauling up sunken boats — some possibly salvageable, others snapped into pieces — while crews in life jackets and rubber boots waded near the shore, yanking chunks of broken docks, floating hunks of foam and other trash from the water.

Divers with scuba tanks were also at work, assessing structural damage to snapped and tipping pylons, while a Coast Guard helicopter hovered above, searching for oil sheens and other contamination.

Video: American in Japan recalls intensity of quake

Port Director Lisa Ekers said the tsunami caused at least $17.1 million in damage to the harbor, and another $4 million to private boats. Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency declaration for the harbor, which can expedite funding for repairs.

One dock, with close to 40 boats at it, was completely ripped out during Friday's surges. So far they've found 18 boats "sitting on the bottom" said Ekers, creating an environmental risk from leaking fuel.

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.

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.

Video: American worries about former students in Japan

"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.

Interactive: How a tsunami forms (on this page)

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 yesterday 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.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Scale of Japanese disaster reveals grim equation

  1. Closed captioning of: Scale of Japanese disaster reveals grim equation

    >> good evening. right about now people here in japan are starting to ask themselves how much worse can things get? struck yesterday by one of the largest earths ever on record. and now this. forced to flee from p aa path of a radioactive leak. in the disaster zone itself, along the east coast , rescue efforts have been complicated by damage to a nuclear power plant . and there is late word of an emergency involving a second reactor in that complex. hundreds of bodies have been spotted along the coast. it is estimated the death toll here could reach 1,000. local news agencies report in one community alone, 9,500 people are unaccounted for. we have a lot to tell you here tonight. we want to start with nbc's lee cowan who has the latest.

    >> reporter: the first lifelines are being lowered into a sea ofdespair. the rescue efforts are cut by the sheer scale of the disaster. nowhere near the hands to offer. grim equation that is forcing those lucky enough to survive, into a terrible limbo. hundreds lining up for food and water that is available as survivors look at the list of the dead.

    >> i have people that i haven't been able to contact. and i'm concerned about their safety.

    >> reporter: add to it all, a nuclear accident . think explosion after the quake damaged a building housing a reactor causing a radioactive leak and the evacuation of a 12-mild radius. official officials say the risk of a full-scale meltdown did not appear eminent. japan's quake was the world's fifth largest on record. and the wall of water that followed -- was unrelenting -- and indiscrimnant. it took everything in its path. ships once resting at anchor were toss ed into the chaos including an oceanliner that has yet to be found. railcars met the same fate the whereabouts of their passengers unknown too.

    >> but, the first it started shaking and something was different. straight away. me and my co workers looked at each other and realized this was a big one.

    >> this is what the tsunami looked like from inside the airport at sendai. the japanese minister got a look at the join's raw power . gauged by the amount of real estate that it swallowed. once a modern city, those yellow buildings are key buildings and hospitals. this is what it looks like now. a toxic brew of mud, oil and debris. more than half the population, nearly 10,000 people remain unaccounted for. fires from ruptured gas and oil lines continue to burnout of control. painful irony here is that water is everywhere but at least one million homes have gone without drinking water since the quake struck. roads and bridges remain largely unpassable. one barrier after another. rescuers and aid workers have to contend with as the flood of internation international aace international aastance begin to crawl to where it is needed most.

    >> reporter: there is word there is a second emergency in the second reactor. it seems to be that it is more of a problem with the cool ant malfunctions again. we don't know how that will effect evacuations underway there.

    >> thank you very much. we want to talk more about that. japanese officials say they have kal cau lighted that 160 people have been exposed to radio activity . 160,000 people

Map: Japan earthquake

Explainer: The 10 deadliest earthquakes in recorded history

  • A look at the worst earthquakes in recorded history, in loss of human life. (The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsumani that affected eastern Japan is not included because the fatalities caused, about 15,000, are fewer than those resulting from the temblors listed below.) Sources: United States Geological Survey, Encyclopedia Britannica

  • 1: Shensi, China, Jan. 23, 1556

    Magnitude about 8, about 830,000 deaths.

    This earthquake occurred in the Shaanxi province (formerly Shensi), China, about 50 miles east-northeast of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi. More than 830,000 people are estimated to have been killed. Damage extended as far away as about 270 miles northeast of the epicenter, with reports as far as Liuyang in Hunan, more than 500 miles away. Geological effects reported with this earthquake included ground fissures, uplift, subsidence, liquefaction and landslides. Most towns in the damage area reported city walls collapsed, most to all houses collapsed and many of the towns reported ground fissures with water gushing out.

  • 2: Tangshan, China, July 27, 1976

    Chinese Earthquake
    Keystone  /  Getty Images
    1976: Workers start rebuilding work following earthquake damage in the Chinese city of Tangshan, 100 miles east of Pekin, with a wrecked train carriage behind them. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
    Magnitude 7.5. Official casualty figure is 255,000 deaths. Estimated death toll as high as 655,000.

    Damage extended as far as Beijing. This is probably the greatest death toll from an earthquake in the last four centuries, and the second greatest in recorded history.

  • 3: Aleppo, Syria, Aug. 9, 1138

    Magnitude not known, about 230,000 deaths.

    Contemporary accounts said the walls of Syria’s second-largest city crumbled and rocks cascaded into the streets. Aleppo’s citadel collapsed, killing hundreds of residents. Although Aleppo was the largest community affected by the earthquake, it likely did not suffer the worst of the damage. European Crusaders had constructed a citadel at nearby Harim, which was leveled by the quake. A Muslim fort at Al-Atarib was destroyed as well, and several smaller towns and manned forts were reduced to rubble. The quake was said to have been felt as far away as Damascus, about 220 miles to the south. The Aleppo earthquake was the first of several occurring between 1138 and 1139 that devastated areas in northern Syria and western Turkey.

  • 4: Sumatra, Indonesia, Dec. 26, 2004

    Aerial images show the extent of the devastation in Meulaboh
    Getty Images  /  Getty Images
    MEULABOH, INDONESIA - DECEMBER 29: In this handout photo taken from a print via the Indonesian Air Force, the scene of devastation in Meulaboh, the town closest to the Sunday's earthquake epicentre, is pictured from the air on December 29, 2004, Meulaboh, Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. The western coastal town in Aceh Province, only 60 kilometres north-east of the epicentre, has been the hardest hit by sunday's underwater earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Officials expected to find at least 10,000 killed which would amount to a quarter of Meulaboh's population. Three-quarters of Sumatra's western coast was destroyed and some towns were totally wiped out after the tsunamis that followed the earthquake. (Photo by Indonesian Air Force via Getty Images)

    Magnitude 9.1, 227,898 deaths.

    This was the third largest earthquake in the world since 1900 and the largest since the 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska temblor. In total, 227,898 people were killed or were missing and presumed dead and about 1.7 million people were displaced by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 14 countries in South Asia and East Africa. (In January 2005, the death toll was 286,000. In April 2005, Indonesia reduced its estimate for the number missing by over 50,000.)

  • 5: Haiti, Jan 12, 2010

    Haitians walk through collapsed building
    Jean-philippe Ksiazek  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Haitians walk through collapsed buildings near the iron market in Port-au-Prince on January 31, 2010. Quake-hit Haiti will need at least a decade of painstaking reconstruction, aid chiefs and donor nations warned, as homeless, scarred survivors struggled today to rebuild their lives. AFP PHOTO / JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK (Photo credit should read JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

    Magnitude 7.0. According to official estimates, 222,570 people killed.

    According to official estimates, 300,000 were also injured, 1.3 million displaced, 97,294 houses destroyed and 188,383 damaged in the Port-au-Prince area and in much of southern Haiti. This includes at least 4 people killed by a local tsunami in the Petit Paradis area near Leogane. Tsunami waves were also reported at Jacmel, Les Cayes, Petit Goave, Leogane, Luly and Anse a Galets.

  • 6: Damghan, Iran, Dec. 22, 856

    Magnitude not known, about 200,000 deaths.

    This earthquake struck a 200-mile stretch of northeast Iran, with the epicenter directly below the city of Demghan, which was at that point the capital city. Most of the city was destroyed as well as the neighboring areas. Approximately 200,000 people were killed.

  • 7: Haiyuan, Ningxia , China, Dec. 16, 1920

    7.8 magnitude, about 200,000 deaths.

    This earthquake brought total destruction to the Lijunbu-Haiyuan-Ganyanchi area. Over 73,000 people were killed in Haiyuan County. A landslide buried the village of Sujiahe in Xiji County. More than 30,000 people were killed in Guyuan County. Nearly all the houses collapsed in the cities of Longde and Huining. About 125 miles of surface faulting was seen from Lijunbu through Ganyanchi to Jingtai. There were large numbers of landslides and ground cracks throughout the epicentral area. Some rivers were dammed, others changed course.

  • 8: Ardabil, Iran, March. 23, 893

    Magnitude not known, about 150,000 deaths

    The memories of the massive Damghan earthquake (see above) had barely faded when only 37 years later, Iran was again hit by a huge earthquake. This time it cost 150,000 lives and destroyed the largest city in the northwestern section of the country. The area was again hit by a fatal earthquake in 1997.

  • 9: Kanto, Japan, Sept. 1, 1923

    Kanto Damage
    Hulton Archive  /  Getty Images
    1923: High-angle view of earthquake and fire damage on Hongokucho Street and the Kanda District, taken from the Yamaguchi Bank building after the Kanto earthquake, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
    7.9 magnitude, 142,800 deaths.

    This earthquake brought extreme destruction in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, both from the temblor and subsequent firestorms, which burned about 381,000 of the more than 694,000 houses that were partially or completely destroyed. Although often known as the Great Tokyo Earthquake (or the Great Tokyo Fire), the damage was most severe in Yokohama. Nearly 6 feet of permanent uplift was observed on the north shore of Sagami Bay and horizontal displacements of as much as 15 feet were measured on the Boso Peninsula.

  • 10: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Oct. 5, 1948

    7.3 magnitude, 110,000 deaths.

    This quake brought extreme damage in Ashgabat (Ashkhabad) and nearby villages, where almost all the brick buildings collapsed, concrete structures were heavily damaged and freight trains were derailed. Damage and casualties also occurred in the Darreh Gaz area in neighboring Iran. Surface rupture was observed both northwest and southeast of Ashgabat. Many sources list the casualty total at 10,000, but a news release from the newly independent government on Dec. 9, 1988, advised that the correct death toll was 110,000. (Turkmenistan had been part of the Soviet Union, which tended to downplay the death tolls from man-made and natural disasters.)

Photos: After Japan's earthquake and tsunami - week 8

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  1. A radiation measuring instrument is seen next to some residents in Kawauchimura, a village within the 12- to 18-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on April 28. Most residents of Kawauchimura have evacuated in order to avoid the radiation, but some remain in the area of their own accord. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A brazier heats the house of Masahiro Kazami, located within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, April 28. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volunteers help clean a cemetery at Jionin temple in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, on April 29. Many volunteers poured into the disaster-hit region at the beginning of the annual Golden Week holiday. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Japanese government adviser Toshiso Kosako is overcome with emotion during a news conference on April 29 in Tokyo announcing his resignation. The expert on radiation exposure said he could not stay on the job and allow the government to set what he called improper radiation limits for elementary schools in areas near the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fuel rods are seen inside the spent fuel pool of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reactor 4 on April 30. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A volunteer girl from Tokyo works to clean the debris of a house in Higashimatsushima, northern Japan, on April 30. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Farmer Tsugio Sato tends to his Japanese pear trees in Fukushima city, May 1. He said he expects to harvest the pears in October. Farmers and businesses face so-called "fuhyo higai," or damages stemming from the battered reputation of the Fukushima brand. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in protective gear receive radiation screening in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, after searching for bodies at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ruriko Sakuma, daughter of dairy farmer Shinji Sakuma, rubs a cow at their farm in the village of Katsurao in Fukushima prefecture on May 3. Thousands of farm animals died of hunger in the weeks following the quake. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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