In the wake of the tsunami that clobbered Crescent City Harbor last week, two dozen fishing boats from that battered city now crowd into Eureka's Woodley Island Marina, floating refugees from the worst disaster to hit the North Coast in decades.
"I don't know what happens next," said Joe Daignault, skipper of the Gemini, a 60-foot crab and cod trawler that was piloted out of Crescent City in the hours between the quake that rocked Japan and the tsunami that swept into Crescent City.
"The fishing wasn't that bad before but now all the ships are scattered," he said.
Although the recent tsunami was far less destructive than the surge that flattened the city in 1964, the event has left behind several tangles of smashed or sunken boats and the twisted remnants of concrete slips that snapped like crackers.
In the devastated harbor Saturday, 56-year-old skipper Gary Tanner said his 37-foot fishing craft, Shadow, had survived the water assault with relatively minor damage.
"I'm one of the lucky ones," he said. "But a lot of guys weren't."
In an office overlooking the smashed up scene, Harbor Master Richard Young huddled with other local officials to survey the damage and start the task of rebuilding.
"This is an economic disaster for Del Norte County," he said. "Fishing is a big part of the economy here."
Young worried about the hundreds of fishing boats and their crews who can no longer use a harbor whose concrete piers and pilings were ripped out by the tsunami just as we might scoop the seeds out of a cantaloupe.
As Young explained, the tsunami was actually a series of events in which the same tide that normally took about six hours to set actually moved in and out at roughly 20-minute intervals.
Imagine, for instance, that in a normal tide the water moved slowly like a Tai Chi exercise giving the concrete piers a chance to adjust. By contrast, the speeded up water movements of the tsunami sucked the water out of the bay so rapidly that the moving waters pulled along the boats - and the boats in turn ripped apart the piers as if they were toys.
"The ropes didn't break it was the concrete that snapped," said Alex Dzuro, a 27-year-old deck leader on the Shadow who said he witnessed at least six of the tsunami events - surges that filled the harbor and quickly emptied it again.
"It was like this great big clam was out there sucking up the water," he said.
By late Saturday Crescent City was relatively calm and quiet although old timers said the water was acting quirky and the bay creatures were staying away. Part of the reason for that avoidance may be the oily film seen on the surface, a visible reminder of the boats trapped in the mud below that could still leak fuel.
"We're still trying to get a handle on the cleanup ahead," said Alexia Retallack, public affairs officer for the spill cleanup office of the California Department of Fish and Game.
Retallack said the recent tsunami was not nearly as destructive as the 1964 catastrophe, one reason for the difference being that this swarm of quick water surges came when local waters were generally low. Had the water been high when the watery shock wave struck "all those boats in the harbor would have been thrown up into the parking lot," she said.
As life in Crescent City generally returned to the normal, native son Marc Harper and his wife, Connie, were finishing lunch when they stopped to share recollections of watching the water surges from their home on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
"It was surging faster than anything I had ever seen, and I grew up in that house," said Harper, who was not in town for the 1964 tsunami but recalls flying in afterward on a plane his father piloted.
"We had the big fuel tanks in those days and they were burning and you could see all the big black smoke clouds curling up," he said.
Meanwhile, alongside Crescent City Harbor, knots of fishermen gathered with arms folded to take stock of their own prospects and count their blessings - or woes.
"It ain't easy in the best of times," said Alan Miller, a 52-year -old crewman on boat that weathered the crisis, "and this ain't gonna make it no easier."
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