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Crescent City comes to grips with tsunami's devastation

The tsunami that started with Japan's 8.9 quake reaches across the Pacific to bring disaster to a working harbor.

March 13, 2011|By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times

No. 5 is the city's own darn fault. When engineers rebuilt after the devastating 1964 tsunami, which old-timers still recount with awe, they decided to erect a sea wall to protect the fishing fleet from the weather. It works fine in normal weather, but in tsunamis, the very small harbor entrance traps the waves and they churn even harder. On Saturday, the normally glassy harbor boiled with strong currents in the tsunami's aftermath.

"After the '64 recovery, they didn't have the modeling we do now," she says as her phone rings and she prepares to leave. "They made the small harbor more vulnerable.... It's like taking a high-strung person and giving them amphetamines."

'Upside down'

Martha McClure was in sixth or seventh grade when the big one hit back in 1964, generated by the Great Alaskan Earthquake. "Tidal Waves Kill 10 in Crescent City," screamed one headline. And "15 Others Missing as Town Becomes Scene of Horror." And "Crescent City Disaster."

"My mom said, 'Let's go see,'" she recounted, "and we all got in the car."

McClure said her lookie-loo family made it home before the biggest wave hit. "It was overwhelming and frightening … for a child to see her community be upside down."

Photos: Tsunami surge damages Crescent City harbor

Saturday the view was just as painful for the grown-up McClure, now a county supervisor touring the devastation with state officials, hoping for emergency assistance. She stared out at the ruined harbor, docks swept away, naked pilings poking up like toothpicks, a trailer that once housed a crab restaurant teetering on the rocks.

One fishing boat, The American Maid, was half submerged, wedged underneath the CherylAnn. The Beautiful belied its name. The Ingot floated forlornly three or four docks over from where it was moored a day earlier. Big chunks of Styrofoam littered the rocks.

"We don't have the financial resources," she said, shaking her head. "We need money. That's what it takes to fix things…. Our poor little harbor."

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