Saturday, February 27, 2010
A tsunami driven by a massive earthquake in Chile surged into Ventura County on Saturday, damaging more than a dozen boat docks and forcing boat owners to scramble after a few loose vessels, but causing no injuries.
A tidal surge estimated at 3 feet rolled into Ventura Harbor about 1 p.m. and unmoored 14 residential docks in the Ventura Keys neighborhood, said Battalion Chief Matt Brock of the Ventura Fire Department.
“It was a busy day, but no one was hurt, no ones’ houses were inundated with water and we were able to help people retrieve their loose boats pretty quickly,” he said.
Brock had no damage estimate for the docks, some of which were partially submerged or had broken away from rollers that connected them to cement piles.
Officials in the Ventura Harbor Master’s Office said there was some erosion and navigational buoys came loose in the inner harbor area, but there were no major incidents. Officials said they focused on getting offshore boats into the harbor.
A sailing regatta sponsored by the Pierpont Bay Yacht Club was returning to the harbor and needed assistance from the Harbor Patrol and U.S. Coast Guard to navigate the main channel.
A tsunami advisory was issued for the California coast and other Pacific shores as a result of the 8.8 earthquake in Chile.
Brett Thompson, who spent the night on his 46-foot sailboat Grace at Ventura Harbor, said a boat came unmoored, but it was retrieved without damage.
“It was quickly captured and retied,” he said by telephone from his boat. “I haven’t heard of any boats being damaged. Some pilings and channel markers broke loose, but just minor stuff.”
Thompson recorded the tidal surge around 1 p.m., which he said showed water level fluctuations of about 4 feet to 6 feet. “That’s a big swing,” he said.
Brock described the surge “as a swell in the water level and not a visible wave.”
The surge was expected to subside by nightfall, according to the West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center.
A meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard said that people sitting on beaches would probably notice only that the water would lap farther onto the beach, but harbors could expect to see more movement because of the way that change in water levels can interact with piers and boats.
No damage reports were recorded at the Channel Islands Harbor Master’s Office, and officials described the surge at the Oxnard harbor as “very minor.”
The Ventura police and fire departments issued a joint warning on an automated call-out message system to encourage people to avoid going near beaches or other low-lying coastal areas, especially jetties and rocky areas. Large waves could quickly and unexpectedly sweep a person from those areas, easily overtaking even the strongest swimmers, the Coast Guard said.
Ventura lifeguards reported no rescues or incidents, Brock said.
Devastating tsunamis are rare in California. Since 1812, 14 tsunamis with waves higher than 3 feet have been observed along the California coast, but only six caused destruction.
The deadliest occurred in 1964 when a magnitude-9.2 quake in Alaska spawned tsunami waves that killed 12 people in Northern California.