The scene last Saturday at Santa Cruz Harbor, when a tsunami caused some flooding in the parking lots.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz Harbor back on solid footing post-tsunami, but long-term repairs loom

Though last Saturday’s surge caused limited damage to Santa Cruz Harbor, and much has already been repaired, officials estimated the total bill at $6.5 million.

A bit less than a week after the tsunami caused by the eruption of a South Pacific volcano rolled into the Santa Cruz Harbor and caused noticeable but limited damage, the majority of the issues have been resolved.

All docks have regained power, the anchor system has been untangled, and the dredging pipeline is under repair in the wake of Saturday’s event. Even so, harbor officials estimated the total damage to be about $6.5 million.

Port Commissioner Chair Reed Geisreiter said that while the damage was not as catastrophic as that sustained during the 2011 tsunami, the issues this time around were entirely different.

“If you think of the harbor as a bathtub, 2011 was like water splashing around violently within the tub, whereas this one was like leaving the tap on and letting it overflow,” he said, comparing the tsunami that followed an earthquake off Japan to the one that followed Saturday’s eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai. “So while water infrastructure is largely OK, landside structures received more damage.”

Along with the electricity and dredging systems, the restrooms, various pilings, some offices and other parts of the landslide infrastructure sustained damage due to flooding. However, Geisreiter said that one of the most pressing issues is getting those who live aboard harbor-based watercraft back in their boat homes.

“People forget that for some, the harbor is home, and they contribute to the harbor,” he said. “Liveaboards are the eyes and ears of the harbor and they need to be taken care of.”

A volcanic eruption near New Zealand caused massive waves to inundate the island nation of Tonga and continue on to the...

Port Director Holland Mac Laurie said the harbor is in relatively good shape despite the unexpected emergency.

“The harbor fared much better than it did in the 2011 tsunami, so we’re thankful for that,” she said. “We have some damaged docks and some damaged pilings, but all can be remedied.”

Mac Laurie said the majority of harbor activities and services were able to continue, but some docks were temporarily closed and liveaboards were certainly affected.

“The liveaboards are located throughout the harbor on a lot of different docks,” she said. “If they need temporary accommodations elsewhere in the harbor that has power, we can make those arrangements internally with them.”

Mac Laurie also pointed out differences between the two most recent tsunamis to hit the harbor.

“One thing that we saw with this tsunami that we did not in 2011 was the subsequent flooding,” Mac Laurie said. “We had a lot of flooding in the restroom and shower facilities in the North Harbor and many electrical transformers were submerged in about 2 1/2 to 3 feet of water.”

While the transformers have been dried out to the point where they can provide sufficient power, they’ll likely need to be replaced down the road.

“Any time you introduce salt water into an electrical component, you’re going to have long-term damage, corrosion, and rust,” said Harbormaster Blake Anderson, adding that there is currently no timeline for getting new transformers. “We’re getting them working now so they can supply power to the docks, businesses and restrooms, but at some point they will fail.”

Still, the damage sustained Saturday pale in comparison to that from the 2011 tsunami. And regardless, Anderson said, safety is always top of mind.

“From the very beginning of the morning, the first priority was to get people off of the docks and prevent people from going down to tend to their boats,” he said, adding that people tried to save their boats in 2011 and ended up needing rescue themselves. “If you’re going to go down and take your boats out, you need to be prepared. Bring food, bring water, and have a way to communicate.”

Though the harbor largely avoided significant damage, Geisreiter stressed that much of that is thanks to the help of emergency services in the area.

“We received fantastic relief aid from the Coast Guard, fire department, police department, and more,” he said. “They were doing everything they could to keep visitors and harbor inhabitants safe. The harbor could not handle this on their own.”