Photo by Prescott Watson.
Photo by Prescott Watson.
Photo by Prescott Watson.
Photo by Prescott Watson.
Photo by Prescott Watson.

After an 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit Japan on Thursday night and caused a tsunami to reach the California coast, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Santa Cruz, Del Norte, Humboldt and San Mateo counties on Friday afternoon.

Santa Cruz port district officials estimate the damages to be upwards of $15 million to the harbor and its docked boats. Final estimates will be given when the harbor is cleared.

Surges from the waves destroyed the U dock on the inland side of the harbor. Santa Cruz port director Lisa Ekers told the Santa Cruz Sentinel that 30 to 40 boats were battered by the waves, estimating $5 million in damages.

“It’s still there,” local boat owner John Branlund said of his weathered boat. “It has a big piece of dock underneath it. The mast is a little bit tilted. Those things aren’t cheap.”

Rusty Kingon, head of the boating program at UC Santa Cruz, arrived early at the scene and managed to save some of his rowing shells. Dave Johnston, the sea kayak instructor at UCSC, helped Kingon rescue some of the shells in between surges of water.

“Our rowing dock was obliterated,” Kingon said. “As the first surge came in, [the] boats at the first row of docks were the worst off. The bows were pushed onto the dock, dipping their sterns into the surges. They filled up and sank.”

The tsunami surges began at around 8 a.m. Friday morning. The currents had several periods during which the waters receded and rushed back in.

The Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center released an evacuation advisory and blocked zones nearest to the coast, including areas along West Cliff Drive and Beach Flats. The county lifted the block early on Friday evening.

Austin Armstrong, a maintenance worker for the Santa Cruz railroad, arrived at the harbor on Friday with a crew during the later part of the morning to examine the bridge for damage.

“The bridge is fine,” Armstrong said. “It’s hit a little bit, like little bumps and stuff, but nothing catastrophic.”

Armstrong is more concerned about effects from the surges other than damage to the bridge.

“As far as just the pollution in the water, that’s what really gets me,” Armstrong said. “It’s just bad – diesel fuel, gas spewing out of the boats, all the boats sinking. It’s just going to pollute the beaches, pollute the harbor – everything – for a long time.”

Port director Ekers said she will work with the Santa Cruz County Environmental Health Department to verify the amount of contamination in the area.