It doesn't matter if the earth sways in Chile, Alaska or Japan, the formation of the sea floor along the U.S. West Coast generally aims any tsunami surges at the tiny California port town of Crescent City. Churning water rushes into the boat basin and then rushes out, lifting docks off their pilings, tearing boats loose and leaving the city's main economic engine looking as if it has been bombed.
That's what happened in March 2011, when a Japanese earthquake sparked a tsunami that sank 11 boats, damaged 47 others and destroyed two-thirds of the harbor's docks.
Port officials are hoping that tsunami is among the last of many that have forced major repairs in Crescent City, a tiny commercial fishing village on California's rugged northern coast. Officials are spending $54 million to build the West Coast's first harbor able to withstand the kind of tsunami expected to hit once every 50 years – the same kind that hit in 2011, when the highest surge in the boat basin measured 8.1 feet (2.5 meters) and currents were estimated at 22 feet (6.7 meters) per second.
Officials are building 244 new steel pilings that will be 30 inches (76 centimeters) in diameter and 70 feet (21 meters) long. Thirty feet (9 meters) or more will be sunk into bedrock. The dock nearest the entrance will be 16 feet (5 meters) long and 8 feet (2.4 meters) deep to dampen incoming waves. The pilings will extend 18 feet (5.5 meters) above the water so that surges 7 1/2 feet (2.3 meters) up and 7 1/2 feet down will not rip docks loose.
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