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Crescent City a 'magnet' for tsunamis, with more than 30 in last 78 years

March 13, 2011 |  9:00 am

The damaging waves that destroyed parts of Crescent City's harbor on Friday was either the 34th or 35th tsunami to hit the North Coast city in the last 78 years, said Lori Dengler, the director of the Humboldt Earthquake Education Center.

Click to read historic 1964 coverageThe geology professor has published repeatedly on the ubiquitous waves, which adorn the official city seal, give businesses their names (Tsunami Sports Bar and Grill. Big Wave Barber Shop. Tsunami Lanes) and occasionally devastate the local economy.

"I have five reasons why Crescent City is a tsunami magnet," she begins. "No. 1 has to do with simple exposure…. This is one of the few cities in California that's extremely exposed — low elevation and jutting out into the ocean."

No. 2 is the shape of the ocean floor off its rocky coast. No. 3 is the bowl shape of the continental shelf, "which causes the tsunami energy to get trapped and start oscillating back and forth in a complex way."

Reason No. 4 is the harbor's orientation. Tsunami waves get trapped in the small south-facing harbor and continue to oscillate. No. 5: When engineers rebuilt after the devastating 1964 tsunami -- which killed 11 and destroyed parts of the town --  they decided to erect a sea wall to protect the fishing fleet from the weather.

Read Maria L. LaGanga's full dispatch from Crescent City.


From the archives: Read Times coverage of the 1964 "tidal wave"

Photo: Friday's tsunami washed rocks onto the road near the Chart Room Restaurant in Crescent City. (Josh Jackson / The Times-Standard)