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Tsunami arrives in Calif.; 4 swept to sea

March 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A tsunami arrived along the California coast on Friday and swept at least four people watching the waves out to sea, and docks were ripped out of harbors, as the destruction of the Japanese earthquake spread to the U.S.

Ventura Harbor Patrol reported a large surge of water minutes after 7 p.m. Friday. The Harbor Patrol reported a 7.2-foot change in the water level in about seven minutes' time. No boats were overturned and no damage was reported. The water began to recede immediately afterward.

The tsunami warning for coastal areas and harbors north of Point Conception had been downgraded to a tsunami advisory, according to the National Weather Service.

At 1:36 a.m. EST the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center cancelled the wave warnings for the Pacific basin. Scientists at the Center say there is still heavy wave activity in Chile and Peru, but the initial strike of the tsunami is already there. They expect those countries to continue to advise individuals against being on or near the shore for the next few hours.

The NWS earlier reported that tsunami levels in those areas have dropped to below 3 feet, but warns that tsunami wave surges, which can produce dangerous currents and changes in sea levels, had been occurring.

The first waves from a tsunami caused by the 8.9-magnitude earthquake reached the Oregon coast at about 7:30 a.m. PST.

Three people were rescued from the water in Oregon, but one man who was taking photos in Northern California was still missing Friday afternoon. Coast Guard helicopters searched for him near the mouth of the Klamath River in Del Norte County, Calif., after his two friends made it back to shore.

In Crescent City, where the tsunami was expected to hit the hardest in California, the tide began rising shortly after 7:30 a.m. A city official said they have experienced at least three surges, with the highest surge being 8 feet.

Del Norte County sheriff's spokesman Bill Stevens said most boats were pulled out of the harbor, but 35 vessels that remained were crashing into one another and sinking. The wooden docks in the area were also breaking apart, but no serious injuries have been reported.

Damage estimates in Crescent City were in the millions.

In the Morro Bay Harbor, two boats broke off their moorings, and another boat was in danger of sinking.

According to National Weather Service meteorologist Curt Kaplan, areas south of Point Conception were only expected wave heights of about 2 feet. He says widespread evacuations are not expected in those areas, but the waves could damage harbors.

The Ventura Police Department said the threat to the Ventura coast was minimal. As of 11 a.m., Ventura experienced three surges of about 2 1/2 to 3 feet, and no damages were reported. Later Friday night another was reported, a 7.2-foot change in water level over seven minutes. No damage was reported.

Marina Del Rey saw about five or six surges, but they were also minimal, according to L.A. County Sheriff's Sgt. George Ducoulombier. People at the beaches were advised to be careful, but no beaches in L.A. County were closed.

In Orange County, beaches, harbors and piers that were closed early in the morning in the cities of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente were reopened at 1 p.m.

The tsunami advisory for Orange County coastal areas was canceled at 8:04 p.m., the National Weather Service announced.

All beaches, harbors and marinas in Huntington Beach and Seal Beach reopened by 4:30 p.m.

The National Weather Service reported three boats sank in Catalina Harbor Friday. A section of the pier in the harbor was damaged by surging waves caused by the tsunami. No injuries were reported.

The NWS also reported two boats at King Harbor in Redondo Beach were pushed onto a dock.

Time Warner announced all calls to Japan made by digital phone customers will be free through April 15. That will be retroactive for all calls made Friday. The offer includes residential and business phone customers.

ABC7 is partnering with the Red Cross in a relief drive to raise money for the victims of the devastating Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Members of the ABC7 Eyewitness News team will be taking donations at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and Angel Stadium of Anaheim from 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 14.

All checks should be made out to the Red Cross, with "Japan earthquake" in the memo line. Cash will also be accepted at the Rose Bowl and Angel Stadium.

Donations by check can be sent to:
ABC7 Japan Disaster Relief Fund
P.O. Box 5967
Glendale, CA 91221

The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.