SF Bay Area spared tsunami damage

<b style="color:#900;">update</b> At least one person is missing, and some harbors and boats are damaged, after Tsunami waves from Japan quake hit California. SF area, however, avoids harm.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
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Update at 4:13 p.m., 8:45 a.m., and 9:20 a.m. PT: Information on surges and waves, harbor damage and state of emergency, missing person added.

The San Francisco Bay Area braced this morning for a tsunami in the aftermath of an 8.9 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan overnight, but only small surges came in the morning and damage appeared limited to boats and docks.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties to the south of San Francisco and Del Norte and Humboldt counties in the north, citing damage to harbors, ports, and infrastructure. Officials had announced tsunami warnings and advisories all along the West Coast of the Americas.

In Santa Cruz Harbor, a dock was damaged and about 30 boats broke free, with some sinking, the San Jose Mercury-News reported. At the beach, observers reported to KRON-TV that the water had receded as much as 200 feet and then returned to shore within about 5 minutes around 8:30 a.m. PT. Meanwhile, surfers were taking their chances in the waves there, according to reports.

The impact seemed to hit Northern California more forcefully, particularly Crescent City, which is prone to tsunamis because of underwater geological formations in the area.

"The harbor has been destroyed," Crescent City Councilman Rich Enea told the Eureka Times-Standard. "Thirty-five boats have been crushed, and the harbor has major damage. Major damage."

Three men taking photos of the tsunami waves near the mouth of the Klamath River in Del Norte County were swept out to sea, the newspaper reported. Two of them were able to get to shore but one remained missing, according to the Coast Guard.

There were seven-foot waves reported around 8:30 a.m. PT in Crescent City, where, in 1964, a dozen people died and more than 100 were injured in a tsunami.

Early in the morning, the National Weather Service said a tsunami was expected to hit the West Coast around 8 a.m. PT, with waves reaching between one and three feet. California officials then called for evacuations of all beaches and low-lying areas. Highway 1, which runs along the coast, was closed. Schools in Pacifica were closed, and bus routes were canceled along the coast in San Francisco. Voluntary evacuations took place in Pacifica and Santa Cruz.

"I feel confident we will not be hurt by this," San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said in a live televised news conference around 7:30 a.m. PT. Lee said he had been up all night monitoring the situation and texting with other officials.

By 9 a.m. PT, the U.S. Coast Guard reported a one-foot tidal surge in San Francisco Bay, KCBS-TV reported. Rob Dudgeon of the Department of Emergency Management told the station that he expected the situation to be fairly calm going forward. Damage was likely mitigated because the waves came during low tide.

Still, the National Weather Service urged caution.

"Stay off the beach," NWS forecaster Diana Henderson was quoted as saying in The San Francisco Chronicle. "It's not just one wave, it's a series that could last up to 12 hours after the initial arrival. So even after 8:30 a.m., please still don't go to the beach. It will be a series of inundations."

The tsunami reached the Hawaiian Islands this morning, and there were reports of damage to some buildings, and of water in the lobbies of some hotels, on the Big Island of Hawaii.

"On the western shore of Hilo, firefighters spotted a floating home in Kealakekua Bay and seven others damaged by at least one large wave," the Associated Press reported, quoting Quince Mento with the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency.

The Coast Guard, meanwhile, said that on Oahu Island, 200 vessels were affected and some piers destroyed, and that two boats sunk off of the island of Maui.

Officials in Hawaii have since cancelled the tsunami advisory for the islands.