As U.S. damage measured, emergency declared in California counties

(CNN) — One person was reported dead and numerous boats and harbors suffered damage in the United States after the tsunami triggered by the massive earthquake off Japan swept across the Pacific Ocean at jet speed Friday.

The fatality was reported in northern California’s Del Norte County, where a 25-year-old man was declared dead Friday afternoon after being swept out to sea off a beach while trying to photograph the tsunami’s arrival, said Joey Young, a spokesman for the county’s emergency operations center.

“We had one person reported missing who has been confirmed dead,” Young said. “The Coast Guard has been doing a search for the body, but the oceanic conditions are making it very difficult.”

The victim’s name had not been released late Friday. He had been standing on a sandbar at the mouth of the Klamath River when he was washed away, Young said. Two of his friends were carried off as well, but were able to return safely to shore, he said.

The tsunami struck the Hawaiian Islands shortly after 3:07 a.m. Friday (8:07 a.m. ET) — less than eight hours after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck off Japan, where nearly 300 people had been reported killed by early Saturday. The Hawaiian capital Honolulu is nearly 3,800 miles (6,100 km) from the epicenter of Friday’s quake.

It brought six-foot waves to Maui, where harbors remained closed Friday night, and brought 8.1-foot waves to Crescent City, California, about 15 miles north of where the only known U.S. fatality occurred.

A tsunami warning was in effect in the rural area north of Redwood National Park where the victim and his friends had dared to go on the beach. He was declared dead Friday afternoon, after Coast Guard helicopters searched for him for five hours, said Lt. Todd Vorenkamp, a Coast Guard spokesman.

“The shoreline here is a dangerous, treacherous place on a good day, and with a tsunami warning, it’s exponentially worse,” Vorenkamp said.

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for four coastal counties Friday as the ocean surge inundated beaches, ports and harbors and prompted the opening of emergency shelters. In addition to Del Norte, the declaration covered Humboldt, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties in northern California.

Harbors in California and Hawaii bore the brunt of scattered damage in the United States. In Crescent City, a commercial fishing center near the Oregon state line, docks and about 35 vessels in its harbor suffered damage, Young said.

In Alaska, Gov. Sean Parnell reported no damage from the tsunami Friday.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Rick Foster told CNN that all California ports were open, but oil and hazardous materials transfers were suspended until further notice. Cutters and helicopters were deployed in several areas of the state, including Santa Cruz, south of San Francisco, where several vessels were overturned or broke loose from their moorings in a marina.

There were no reported injuries or distress calls, said Foster.

Sensors on the southern end of the island of Hawaii, sometimes called the “Big Island,” were wet, indicating ocean water had come at least 100 feet ashore, officials said. The Coast Guard reported that a house on the Big Island had been washed into Kealakekua Bay.

Harbors reopened Friday afternoon in U.S. Pacific territories and all Hawaiian islands except Maui, where all remained closed late Friday, the Coast Guard reported. At least 10 recreational vessels in Hawaii were sunk by the tsunami, and about 200 boats were reported damaged in Oahu’s Keehi Lagoon alone.

Businessman Charlie Leonard, who lives on the 19th floor of a condo on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, said Hawaiians took this tsunami more seriously than they did following a February 2010 earthquake in Chile.

“You could hear a pin drop in Waikiki,” Leonard said.


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