Deja Vu for Tsunami-Wary Pacific Coast

Calif. town hit hard by '64 tsunami, sees harbor destroyed; 4 rescued in Oregon.

March 11, 2011 — -- The northern California and Oregon coastlines are no stranger to waterborne calamity and, with this morning's tsunami, they've been hit again. Four people were rescued from rough waters today in the Pistol River area of Southern Oregon while in Crescent City, Calif., three different storm surges have destroyed the coastal community's harbor, breaking mooring and sending boats floating freely into the sea.

The sheriff of Curry County, Ore., said that of the four rescued in Oregon, one person has been hospitalized for hypothermia after spending 10 minutes in frigid water.

Some 90 miles south, in Crescent City, low-lying areas of the community have been evacuated.

"Our harbor is totally unusable. The docks are all destroyed," said Wendy Malone, the communications supervisor for the Del Norte County Sheriff's Department.

Malone said evacuees are being offered shelter at Del Norte High School at the edge of Crescent City. Highway 101 into the city has been shut down.

Joshua Mims, 29, the owner of Coastal Crazies, a Crescent City T-shirt business, said he first learned of the evacuation at 3 a.m.

The storm "just trashed the harbor," Mims said.

Mims, who also works for a fishing company, said his boss there took his boat out of the harbor to keep it safe and is now braving the swells to find a safer port.

For long-time residents of the town, the event likely brings back uneasy memories. In 1964, an earthquake originating in Alaska hit not only Hawaii but Crescent City. (Click here for pictures of the 1964 tsunami's devastating impact on the Aloha State.) In Crescent City, the raging waters caused 10 drowning deaths, injured two dozen people and caused millions of dollars in damage, including battered homes, trailers and boats, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Crescent City: Why It's Vulnerable to Tsunamis

Part of the town, as its name suggests, is the shape of a crescent, with two strips of land jutting out into the sea. This makes Crescent City, which has a population of 7,500, especially vulnerable to tsunamis, said Anurag Jain, an engineer with the California firm Weidlinger Associates.

"The land's shape causes the waves energy to get focused into a spot or a small area and that's what causes the damage," he said.