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Crescent City: Tsunami target

  • Crews inspect sunken boats and docks at the Crescent City harbor on Wednesday. (KENT PORTER/ PD)

Robert Markin pulled his trailer up to the Crescent City Harbor, hoping to find something worth hauling away.

Instead, he found his boat, The American Maid, poking out of the water with a head-sized hole punched through its bow and its stern crushed and sunk.

“It's junk,” the 80-year-old fisherman said Wednesday, staring down at the uninsured vessel. “If I stay here much longer, I'm going to start crying.”

Crescent City has long been known as a magnet for tsunamis, the consequence in part of off-shore ridges that practically steer surges to its exposed position like gutters in a bowling lane. Since 1933, the city 20 miles south of the Oregon border has been hit by approximately 35 tsunamis, most infamously in 1964 when one nearly wiped its downtown off the map.

The most recent tsunami, though, is the worst in the five decades since then, Crescent City Mayor Charles Slert said. Sixteen boats were sunk, 47 others were damaged and rows and rows of concrete floating docks that once housed Northern California's most productive fishing fleet were gone, smashed into the corners of the boat basin or flung along nearby beaches.

“This harbor is toast,” said Thomas Coopman, who couldn't get past law enforcement blockades in time to take his 30-foot crabber to the safety of the open sea. He finally slipped through, only to watch the Ruth M. go down in a wreck'em derby of untied boats and swirling debris.

“If they get started working right now, it'll be years before they get this place going. It's totally wiped us all out,” Coopman said.

For the small city of 7,643 hemmed between the forest and the sea, prolonged repairs to the port could be economically painful.

Fishing major industry

Fishing is a major source of revenue for the town along with tourism, agriculture and the nearby Pelican Bay State Prison. In 2009, the most recent figures available, fishermen brought in $17.6 million worth of seafood to Crescent City, 48 percent more than the second most productive Northern California port, Eureka.

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