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DSA In the News

Bay Area skirts heavy damage

Published on 3/12/2011

Most of the Bay Area was not directly affected Friday by a deadly tsunami that hit Japan Thursday night, despite concerns that residual waves crashing onto the California coastline could cause damage or injuries.

A tsunami warning was issued early Friday morning in the region after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan led to a tsunami that killed hundreds of people.

Local damage seems to have been restricted to the Santa Cruz Harbor, but precautions were taken across the Bay Area — including evacuation plans, transit cancellations and school closures — due to wave swells expected just before 8 a.m.

San Mateo County officials advised residents in the low-lying areas west of Highway 1 to move to ground east of the highway, according to the county’s emergency alert system.

Evacuation shelters were established at several local high schools and an elementary school.

Pacifica resident Kenn Lipke got a phone call from a friend around 3 a.m. warning of the possible evacuation. By 4:30 a.m., Lipke received an emergency alert call from the county. By 5 a.m., he and his family had packed some irreplaceable photos, unplugged electronics and placed things on higher ground before leaving. They traveled up to Roberts Road and watched the ocean. 

Things were calm until just before 8 a.m. when water began to be sucked back into the ocean. Lipke had never seen so much of the beach, he said. Tsunami waves were consistent and a little different, said Lipke, but never picked up that much steam. 

Most of the region’s schools remained open Friday, but all Pacifica schools were closed as a precaution, school district officials announced.

The district office and its departments were also closed, according to the Pacifica School District.

In Santa Cruz, the harbor has sustained an estimated $2 million in damage so far, and the director of emergency services issued a local emergency, county spokesman Enrique Sahagun said.

Two docks and three vessels sustained major damage, and several others experienced minor damage, he said.

About 10 boats were pulled loose from their moors and crashed into one another at about 9:20 a.m. near Aldo’s Harbor Restaurant, general manager Alfredo Servin said.

The diner is right on the water at 616 Atlantic Ave., and Servin said he could also see a lot of debris.

Harbor officials advised the public to evacuate the area.

“Do not come to the harbor to secure your vessel,” said a warning on the harbor’s website. “Harbor crews are working to secure the area.”

Servin said he could see quite a few people out in the harbor, but it was not clear if they were all emergency officials.

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, transit officials monitored the situation to see if they needed to alter service due to the tsunami warning.

BART officials initially considered suspending service through the Transbay Tube, but as of about 8:40 a.m., the agency had decided the waves were not substantial enough to warrant the closure, spokesman Linton Johnson said.

The Transbay Tube and the San Francisco and Peninsula stations are underground or below sea level, and could potentially be damaged if the waves were higher, Johnson said.

San Francisco police closed Great Highway at about 5 a.m. Friday from Point Lobos at 48th Avenue to Lake Merced, police Lt. Troy Dangerfield said.

Earlier Friday morning, the bluffs above San Francisco’s Ocean Beach were dotted with spectators who had heard about the tsunami warning and couldn’t resist seeing the effects for themselves.

At about 8:30 a.m., the sun was shining, the air was warm and the waves seemed no more dramatic than most days, several Sunset District residents said.

“This looks normal,” said construction salesman Greg Miller, who lives a few blocks from the beach.

Standing on a bluff near Great Highway and Vicente Street, Miller said he wasn’t worried about the tsunami warning.

“It hit Hawaii and didn’t seem to do anything to Hawaii,” he said.