Saturday, November 18, 2006

Report from tsunami ground zero


Small tsunami waves hit S.C. harbor
By Soraya Gutierrez
Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ — Small tsunami waves with "extremely strong surges" hit the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor throughout the day Wednesday.

The surge was caused by an early morning 8.1-magnitude undersea quake near Japan. A number of boats broke away from the dock in Santa Cruz, said Don Kinnamon, senior deputy harbormaster. One small sailboat overturned at 1 p.m. near the Crow's Nest, he said. No injuries were reported.

"It's like a river running through the harbor," Kinnamon said.

The quake prompted tsunami watches for Hawaii, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and several Pacific islands.

In California, the National Weather Service reported ocean surges from 1 to 6 feet and waves gusting up to 30 mph, but did not call an official tsunami warning or watch. Surges were observed from Port San Luis on the Central Coast to the Oregon border.

In Santa Cruz, waters were choppy throughout the day, and boaters and kayakers were urged to use caution when heading out to sea. The Harbor Patrol was keeping a close watch throughout the night, Kinnamon said.


We have phone service, electricity, DSL, and businesses seem to be open and operational, so no need to worry. We restrained ourselves from going on a Disaster Tour, so I actually don’t have much to report about it.

Except for a surf story! Heard about a couple regulars who were out at Davenport Landing when the tsunami happened. I won’t use names since I heard this 3rd-hand and might not have the details perfectly exact. But I won’t let that stop me...

They didn’t notice the water sucking out like usually happens before a tsunami, but conditions were noticeably “weird.” The water was choppy and strangely surgy. The sets had been fairly regular, then there was a suspiciously long lull. Suddenly a five-foot wave popped up out of nowhere. One of the guys was outside far enough where he got over it without trouble, but the other guy got caught inside and had to push through it. A five-foot wave is on the small–medium size for a seasoned surfer, but this wave was surprisingly powerful, and his surfboard was ripped out of his arms.

Well, yes, that's the whole story.

One thing I assume all surfers have in common: a fantasy about surfing a tsunami. Actually, if you’re anywhere near a coastline, being out in the ocean is probably one of the safer places to be in a tsunami, as long as you’re out far enough. On shore would be frightening. Having experienced being out surfing when large objects are caught up in a wave and bearing down on me (i.e. a kayak), I can attest that dodging objects is often impossible. You think you could somehow swim out of the way, but the powerful currents involved with waves tend to pull everything into one spot. The impact zone. Funny how that one spot also happens to be the most violent epicenter of the wave. Terrible things can happen there: getting sucked "over the falls", getting stuffed into an undersea cave, getting slammed onto a rock, getting pinned to the bottom. Any stray objects trapped with you in the impact zone will be waterlogged by the time they hit you, making them much heavier. If you're wearing a surfboard attached to your leg with a leash, the leash might wrap around your neck and start strangling you, or it might tangle on a rock and hold you under. Many fear the dreaded rubber band affect, where the surfboard shoots out until the leash runs out, and then zings back at full speed straight at you.

Have I convinced anyone not to take up surfing yet? Good, because I was warned about all of these possiblities when I started up, which is why I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting out in the channel where it was unlikely a wave would ever break. Unless a tsunami came along, and then of course I would be in the impact zone.

Why are these people smiling in this picture from the Asian tsunami? It might be hard to see, but it's true, a lot of them are smiling. On my face, there would be a look of horror. Concrete + giant wall of whitewater + many elbows = Ouch.

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