Beach at Half Moon Bay. (Photo: Kim White/Getty)

A 9.0 earthquake struck off the Japan coast on Friday (Thursday evening California time), triggering a tsunami that killed hundreds of people. Tsunami warnings went into effect across the Pacific, including California. In the Bay Area, the effects have been fairly mild, although there has been some destruction of harbors, especially in Santa Cruz, and authorities have warned people to stay away from beaches.


2 p.m. Saturday The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center has canceled its alert for California and the rest of the Pacific coast. See Tsunami Advisory Cancellation #35.

4:40 p.m. Vivid video of the waves hitting Santa Cruz harbor:

4:20 p.m. This morning Gretchen Weber of KQED’s Climate Watch spoke with Tom Brocher, Director of the Earthquake Science Center at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park. Mr. Brocher said a lot of interesting things, including the following:

  • The type of giant quake that hit Japan yesterday is not expected to menace the Bay Area, where the 7.9 quake of 1906 is thought to be at the upper limit of quakes in the area. The quake yesterday was 30 times larger than the 1906 quake, and 900 times the size of Loma Prieta in 1989.
  • North of California, however is another story. A magnitude 9.0 or above quake in the Pacific Northwest is expected. Those quakes, which are the product of vast and deep faults, are characterized by their severity and the length of shaking when they strike. Brocher said strong shaking lasted for 3-5 minutes during yesterday’s tembler.
  • A quake in the 9.0 range occurs in the Pacific Northwest region every 300 – 500 years. The last one was in 1700, which scientists know because of a tsunami that was recorded in Japan at the time.

    Listen to Tom Brocher of the USGS discusse yesterday’s giant earthquake[audio:]

    3:20 p.m. KRON TV is reporting that Governor Brown had declared a state of emergency in Del Norte, Humboldt, San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties.

    3:04 p.m. From the Eureka Times Standard:

    The U.S. Coast Guard is currently searching for a man swept out to sea while taking photos of incoming tsunami waves near the mouth of the Klamath River. The unidentified man and two friends reportedly traveled to the shoreline to take photos of the incoming waves when all three were swept out to sea. Two of the men were able to get safely back to shore, but the third remains unaccounted for, according to the release…Meanwhile, officials in Crescent City and Curry County, Ore., continue to report extensive property damage.” The harbor has been destroyed,” said Crescent City Councilman Rich Enea in a phone interview earlier this morning. “Thirty-five boats have been crushed and the harbor has major damage. Major damage.” Full story

    2:39 p.m. Here’s a satellite map of Crescent City, CA, near the border of Oregon, where waves triggered by the tsunami hit the harbor hard.

    From the LA Times:

    Eight-foot waves from the Japan tsunami destroyed much of Crescent City harbor, battered boats, closed the 101 Freeway and left one person missing.

    KDRV-TV reported that four people were washed out to sea Friday. Three were hurt and one is feared dead.

    Local residents reported that about three dozen boats were “crushed” in the harbor and that surging waters significantly damaged or destroyed most of the docks. Ocean water surging up Elk Creek north of the harbor reportedly lapped up to front doors of the community’s cultural center.

    Northern California and Southern Oregon news sources:

    1:35 p.m. In Hawaii, the danger has passed.

    12:53 p.m. In Japan, especially in Sendai, a city of one million, the situation is far more serious than it is here.

    Follow events in Japan:

    The video footage from Japan is terrifying:

    More Japan video:

    12:45 p.m. You can monitor what’s happening on the Northern California and Southern Oregon coast by watching KDRV Medford’s live stream.

    12:35 p.m. A warning for everyone in this AP headline:

    “MCKINLEYVILLE, Calif. (AP) Coast Guard searches for man swept out to sea in Northern Calif. while taking pics of tsunami ”

    Santa Cruz news sources:

    11:53 a.m. Much of the area focus regarding the tsunami has turned to Santa Cruz, which has experienced some very large waves.

    From the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

    Just after 11 a.m. Santa Cruz police issued mandatory evacuations for the area around the harbor and beach areas. Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark said they are anticipating an 8-foot surge into the harbor based on information received from state emergency services.

    Damage at the harbor in Santa Cruz is mounting as boats have broken loose, some sinking, others banging into each other and the docks as at least four tsunami surges have ripped in and out.

    Parts of Santa Cruz County were issued an evacuation notice early Friday morning because of the tsunami warning issued about 1:30 a.m. by the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center. Full article

    About an hour ago, KQED’s Stephanie Martin had a dramatic conversation with KUSC reporter Nick fountain just as huge wave inundated the harbor:

    Eyewitness account of wave hitting Santa Cruz harbor

    Update 11:43 a.m. AP reports one killed in Crescent City and three swept out to sea at Crescent City harbor.

    Update 11:20 a.m. From AP:

    Officials say the tsunami triggered by the massive earthquake in Japan has caused severe damage to the harbor in Crescent City, near the Oregon border.

    Del Norte County sheriff’s spokesman Bill Stevens says most boats were pulled out of the harbor in preparation for Friday’s tsunami, but 35 vessels that remained are crashing into one another and sinking.
    The wooden docks also are breaking apart under the force of the waves.

    Crescent City Councilwoman Kelly Schellong says the docks and harbor “are pretty much completely destroyed.”
    Stevens says the damage cost is estimated to be into the millions, and surges still are expected through the afternoon.
    However, the waves have not gone over the 20-foot break wall at the harbor, and no serious injuries or home damage have been reported.

    Update 10:10 a.m.

    Gretchen Weber of KQED’s Climate Watch has interviewed Tom Brocher of the USGS in Menlo Park. He reports:

    The quake in Japan was 900 times stronger than the Bay Area Loma Prieta quake, and 30 times stronger than the Great San Francisco quake of 1906.

    We don’t expect anything of this magnitude in the Bay Area because our faults are smaller. A 9.0+ quake north of Mendocino is estimated to hit every 300-500 years, and the last one was in 1700, which we know because of tsunami records from Japan.

    Live streaming coverage:

    Rolling updates:

    County-by-County information:

    San Francisco

    Santa Cruz

    • Live chat
    • Road closures

    Contra Costa

    San Mateo


  • Tidal wave alert passes without incident along Marin coastline (Marin Independent Journal)
  • Frank Cox, spokesman for Marin County Emergency, says Muir Beach and Stinson Beach have been closed. Marshall and Bolinas residents were told to voluntarily remove themselves from proximity to water.

KQED News Coverage

California Tsunami Updates 12 March,2011Jon Brooks


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is the host and editor of KQED’s health and technology blog, Future of You. He is the former editor of KQED’s daily news blog, News Fix. A veteran blogger, he previously worked for Yahoo! in various news writing and editing roles. He was also the editor of, which documented user-generated content about the financial crisis and recession. Jon is also a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S. He has written about film for his own blog and studied film at Boston University. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College.

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