U.S. Western Tsunami Losses Climb

March 16, 2011

As states in the West clean up tsunami damage, loss estimates are climbing, according to local officials.

In Hawaii, the estimate — tallied by Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s office to be in the millions — combines damage to homes, businesses, hotels, boats, piers and government infrastructure. The most serious damages were near Kealakekua Bay and Kailua-Kona on the Big Island; Haleiwa and Keehi Lagoon on Oahu; as well as areas of Maui and Molokai, which also lost significant value.

At least 25 boats sank at Keehi Lagoon, and an undetermined number of homes may have been destroyed along the Big Island’s west coast beyond the two initially reported. The Four Seasons Hualalai and Kona Village Resort hotels on the Big Island are temporarily closed to damage.

“It’s in the millions in terms of property, but it’s very small in terms of personal injury and deaths. Of course, we’re very, very fortunate,” Abercrombie said.

He noted additional losses may pile up because thousands of Japanese tourists have canceled vacations to Hawaii since the tsunami, dealing a crushing blow to the state’s tourism-dependent economy.

“The economic consequences will be severe for us,” Abercrombie said. “It’s going to be terrible. It’s going to be rough. It’s something we have to come to grips with.”

He said he would call the state Council on Revenues back into session to revise last week’s forecast, which already put the state government’s projected shortfall at nearly $1 billion over the next two years.

Hawaii residents and businesses have sustained enough financial harm that the state should qualify for federal assistance, including low-interest recovery loans through the Small Business Administration and other associations, he said.

It will take months to clear debris from piers and the ocean floor, and much longer to repair damaged shorelines, said Ed Underwood, Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation administrator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

At least 200 boats at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu were damaged when their floating docks broke loose, pushing them out to sea and then pulling them back in when waves crashed toward shore.

In California, a state official estimated that statewide damage from the tsunami surge exceeds $40 million.

Mike Dayton, acting secretary of the Emergency Management Agency, gave the estimate after touring the battered Santa Cruz Harbor, where 18 vessels sank, about 100 were damaged and another 12 remained unaccounted for.

Santa Cruz Harbor revised its initially $17 million loss estimate upward to $22.5 million in damage. Port Director Lisa Ekers told local news outlets that inspectors continue to discover damage to docks and other structures and the final tally is expected to exceed $25 million, not including an estimated $4 million in damage to private boats.

The Harbor remains closed as a designated a Coast Guard Safety Zone until the Coast Guard completes the oil and debris removal operations to address pollution threats, public safety issues and navigational hazards.

Every day the harbor is closed an estimated $206,000 in local revenue is lost, Ekers reported.

Along the state’s North Coast, officials at the heavily damaged Crescent City Harbor were still working on totaling the value of the damage. All told, 53 vessels were damaged, including 15 that sank, said Alexia Retallack, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Fish and Game.

The harbor, which provided berths for more than 100 boats, was virtually destroyed by the waves, she said, devastating the fishing industry in a town where the economy is largely dependent on the day’s catch.

A federal team will be in Crescent City later this week to use special sonar equipment to map sunken boats in the harbor.

In Oregon, Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a state of emergency for Curry County to set in motion a state and federal process for applying for federal disaster assistance. At the Governor’s direction, disaster assessment teams from Oregon Emergency Management and FEMA will be at Brookings Harbor Port today to begin a three-day process of gathering damage assessments in Curry County’s ports. The damages have closed the Port indefinitely.

Insurance Journal West Editor Patricia-Anne Tom contributed to this report.

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