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Boaters Assess Damage After Tsunami Strikes Santa Cruz Harbor

SANTA CRUZ (KPIX) -- Crews have been working to restore power and assess the damage at the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor, in the wake of Saturday's tsunami that struck in the early morning hours after a massive underground volcano erupted in the South Pacific.

Three pilings were damaged or destroyed, half a dozen electrical transformers were flooded with salt water, and the dredging vessel suffered significant damage. The timeline for repair is unknown, according to Harbormaster Blake Anderson.

The harbor received its first tsunami advisory around 4 a.m. on January 15, and staff began making preparations for the surge by shutting off power, deactivating the fueling station, and evacuating residents who live aboard their vessels.

The surge of water began flowing into the harbor around sunrise, jostling the dredger "Twin Lakes," tangling the multiple anchor lines and damaging the pipeline. Completion of repairs will be largely dependent on the availability of spare parts amidst the global supply chain troubles.

In 2011, a tsunami originating in Japan, caused $20 million dollars in damage to the same harbor.

The repair bill for the most recent tsunami repair "will not be close to that, but it will be significant," said Anderson. "We had replaced hundreds of piles in the harbor so I think having that newer infrastructure, having the better docks now, that saved us too," said Anderson.

Jason Steinberg, was among the evacuees awoken in the pre-dawn hours by the commotion of neighbors and Harbor Patrol, and witnessed the parking lot become inundated with floodwaters.

"And it happened within 5 minutes. It jumped 9 feet in five minutes," said Steinberg.

Tom McClaren's boat was tied to a slip directly adjacent to one of the destroyed pilings. The surge hoisted the dock and left it askew in the air, and snapped the metal piling in half. Remarkably, McClaren's boat was undamaged.

"I've been in the ocean my whole life. You never know what's going to happen. Respect Mother Nature, Mother Ocean," said McClaren.

David Snider, Tsunami Warning Coordinator at NOAA, explained how the tsunami traveled from Tonga and still caused damage inside the harbor 5400 miles away.

"And as those waves build up against each other or perhaps even break the other waves apart, the level of water is going to change in that immediate area. So perhaps that's what's happening in that harbor, in that enclosed space. Acting like a funnel and shaping that wave into something greater than it was when it came in, originally," said Snider.

Michael Poland, a geophysicist at USGS, has some relatively good news about the volcano's eruption.

"We have a good sense now of just how much sulfur dioxide came out as part of this eruption, based on satellite data. And it's not quite as much that was originally thought. So it's not the sort of volume of material, and gas, that would have a noticeable impact on the climate," said Poland.

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