State, federal, and local officials assembled in Crescent City on Saturday to survey the damage wrought by waves surging to 8.1 feet one day earlier as a tsunami resulting from a Japan's worst-ever earthquake struck the California coast.
Authorities have yet to take a stab at estimating losses there, but Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson said the Crescent City harbor — the center of the area's commercial fishing and tourism industry — was destroyed and would represent an enormous economic loss.
"The fishing industry really identifies our community," Wilson said. "It's been the heart and soul of our community for hundreds of years, and especially when we lost the timber industry up here, it really became the focal point for our area."
In Fort Bragg, fishing resumed out of Noyo Harbor, despite the loss of docks and some boats there.
Gregg Stevens, harbor master at Dolphin Isle Marina about a mile down the Noyo River from the ocean was trying to figure out how to raise a boat that sank upside down at the mouth of the marina, preventing anyone else from coming in or out.
The sunken vessel had run aground and been abandoned until shifting waves lifted it from its resting place and deposited it at a most inopportune place.
"We hope to have that resolved today," Steven said. "We are the only fuel dock in 160 miles of coast, so we have to get this open real quick."
He also lost about 44 slips because of docking that broke apart in the waves, though the moored boats were saved as he and several fisherman battled to keep them in place Friday.
"We didn't have any choice," Stevens said. "I really didn't want those guys on the dock at all, but I didn't have any real choice. We were looking at a lot of expensive boats going out to sea slamming on things on their way out."
Closer to the mouth of the harbor, Noyo Fishing Center owner John Geber marveled at how well the nearby marina fared.
Dozens of vessels escaped the battering because they were piloted out to deeper water before dawn to avoid what was coming, he said.
"It looked like a highway headed out the river and out to the horizon," Noyo Fishing Center owner John Geber said of the 6 a.m. exodus.
Chunks of two docks were broken off and remaining boats were banged about by the action of surging waves that would raise the whole harbor by four feet, then suddenly withdraw.
The closest call involved a 40-foot vessel still tethered to a dock end as it broke free and was tossed about in the waves, he said.
"Any boat that had been in the river here would have had a real tough time yesterday. It was quite a sight to see the river flowing backward," Geber said.
Mendocino County Sheriff's Sgt. Shannon Barney, emergency services coordinator, said late Friday that about 400 feet of pier was lost at the Noyo Harbor.
In Crescent City, where a 1964 tsunami took 11 lives, Sheriff Wilson described surging water that came into the recently dredged harbor with such velocity it caused a churning, whirlpool like action that ripped apart docks and pulled boats from moorings, swirling them round and round and crashing everything together.