Santa Cruz Harbor damage expected to top $25M

March 15, 2011 5:55:41 PM PDT
The federal government has a team assessing the damage in Santa Cruz and Crescent City from the tsunami triggered by Japan's 9.0 earthquake last Friday.

The total loss in Santa Cruz to the dock, the infrastructure and the piers is going up and is expected to top $25 million. It turns out, however, that some of the sunken boats were counted twice, so that number is going down from 17 to 13. The problem is that as long as the harbor is closed, none of the boats are going anywhere.

Leo Morelli has been a crab fisherman for 10 years. Right now he has an empty crab tank and 100 crab pots on the ocean floor he can't get to.

"If the crab pots are still there, great, if they're not, then you got to look at almost $220 each pot," said Morelli.

The Santa Cruz Harbor is closed, which means no boats in or out. In addition to the initial tsunami damage, many commercial fishermen are taking another financial blow because right now they're as stuck in the harbor as some of the boats lined up in the parking lot.

"They're hurting for money and then can't go make it to help themselves out and feed the family, so it's a pretty bad situation right now," said Mike Levesque of Monterey Bay Charters.

Dive teams Tuesday lowered the total number of sunken boats to 13, but all of them have to be hauled away before the harbor can re-open. The hidden debris is a navigation hazard and a pollution threat. Fishermen understand, but each day takes its toll.

"Some of us are getting stressed out about not being able to fish, which we need to be getting back out to work," said black cod fisherman Christian Zajac.

The tsunami's aftermath does have FEMA at work. The agency is taking the first steps that could activate federal funds.

"Based on the information that's gathered from this preliminary damage assessment and the one in Crescent City, the governor may make a request to the president for a federal disaster declaration," said Casey de Shong with FEMA.

That possibility would help the harbor rebuild, but it won't do much for Morelli if the tsunami took his traps out to sea.

"We don't make that much money, so for us to get all of those pots and stuff and have them disappear, it's hard," said Morelli. "It could set a crab fisherman back two, three years."

Of those 13 boats believed to have been sunk, seven have been hauled out of the water. The port director hopes that the harbor could re-open early next week.


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