Chile quake has little effect on NorCal coastline

Photos taken around 1:20 p.m. show a relatively calm sea off Pescadero State Park in San Mateo County at about the time a possible surge was expected to hit shore as a result of the 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile. Spectators lined their cars along Highway 1 in hopes of seeing a tsunami, but they were disappointed. County and state officials had closed the seaside state parks and beaches for safety. Rangers patrolled sections not secured by fences or gates.

February 27, 2010 7:39:36 PM PST
A tsunami advisory in the Bay Area Saturday had residents and boat owners scrambling to the coast to protect their vessels.

In Santa Cruz, unusual tides swept in so much sand they had to close the harbor and people were warned to stay away from all California beaches because of dangerous waves.

Advance warning was a major help. It gave state park rangers, police and local fire agencies to prepare to keep away from the dangers of a possible tsunami. Beaches were closed. Spectators still turned out and there was a lot of concern at coastal harbors.

It started out as a typical Saturday with crab fishermen selling off their boats. In the background, Harbormaster Robert Johnson was concerned about the 350 boats in the marina.

"If we have a lot of water suddenly coming into the marina area, it theoretically could lift the docks off the piling, and you'll have docks and boats floating around unsecure," he explained.

That's exactly what happened in 2006 at Santa Cruz Harbor after an 8.6 earthquake east of Japan sent a tsunami across the Pacific, damaging a dozen boats.

"Now, these docks are built to rise with it, but if they did rise higher than that pole right there, then they would be become disconnected from the pier itself," explained John Hurwitz, captain of the Irene Marie.

The surge was expected to hit the shore around 1:25 Saturday afternoon. Only a few waves developed covering the beach, but it was far less dramatic than some spectators had hoped to witness. While access to state beaches and parks was closed, cars did line Highway 1.

What was dramatic was the change in sea level. With the first surge, the water level rose 18 inches above the marker, then within 20 minutes it dropped to 30 inches below the marker, a difference of four feet. Despite that dramatic change in sea level, no boats were damaged.

People obeyed warnings to stay back.

"It kind of heightened a sense of awareness for folks, and the citizens in general have been a little bit more weary of the situation," said Coastside Fire Battalion Chief Ari Delay. "We've been very proactive in getting the message out to the public in regards to the possibility of the high surf with this tsunami advisory that's currently in effect."

"You have to respect the sea," said fisherman Leroy Reiner. "I've fished out here for almost 30 years."

No injuries were reported among any of the spectators who turned out along the coast. While some of them were probably expecting a little more excitement, the lack of drama was probably a very acceptable outcome.


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