Tsunami recovery continues for California harbor

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A year after a tsunami turned it into a whirl of tidal surges, the Santa Cruz (Calif.) Small Craft Harbor has a long way to go before normal returns to port.

On March 11, 2011, the 9.0-magnitude Great Tohoku earthquake, one of the five strongest recorded in history, shifted Toyko, the largest metropolitan area in the world, 8 feet to the east. Located 32 miles offshore and 20 miles deep, the quake sent waves more than 100 feet high crashing into Japan, killing more than 15,000 people.

In the United States, residual effects from that disaster hit the West Coast, including the harbor in Santa Cruz.

Recent damage estimates put the cost of repairs at $17 million. Work on two docks that were destroyed has been finished, but harbor officials estimate that it won't be until the end of next year before all 23 are replaced, casualties of repeated surges, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

“It wasn't like we had a tsunami. It was like we had 40 or 50 of them over the course of 36 hours,” port director Lisa Ekers said.

Just after 8 a.m. that day the water pushed inland, the highest waves cresting at 5 feet, only to withdraw minutes later, tearing at moorings, pilings, utility hookups and dock floats.

As the water receded, boats would zip by, cast out to sea. Harbor patrol and the Coast Guard tried to rescue several, but in the end more than a dozen capsized, including two patrol boats. More than 100 were damaged, despite harbor residents' efforts to lash them down.

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