Governor declares disaster following tsunami

Docks and boats are in disarray in the Port of Brookings-Harbor after tsunami surges from the earthquake in Japan hit it.

SALEM — Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a state of emergency Tuesday for coastal Curry County, which was ravaged by a tsunami that buckled docks and sank boats when water surged in last week.

Kitzhaber is sending disaster teams today to begin assessing the damage to the county’s three ports and determine whether there is enough destruction to trigger federal assistance.

The tsunami rolled in Friday morning following an earthquake in Japan. It caused the most severe damage in Oregon to the port in Brookings, taking out much of its infrastructure.

“There is a real sense of urgency to get the dock facilities back up so the recreational and commercial fleets can continue to operate,” Kitzhaber said at a Salem news conference Tuesday.

Port of Brookings-Harbor manager Ted Fitzgerald said he had not completed a detailed estimate of the damages, but felt it would be a year before the harbor was repaired after the tsunami.

About 80 percent of the docks have been destroyed, some 80 pilings broken off or bent over, a public hoist for unloading fishing boats was severely damaged and a seawall made of sheets of steel driven into the harbor bottom is now gone, ripped out and possibly lying somewhere on the ocean bottom, he said.

The port remained closed until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could survey the port entrance at the Chetco River Bar with sonar for obstructions left behind by the surges, Fitzgerald said.

Kitzhaber said he’s focused on reopening the port as soon as possible to minimize economic damage to the county. He said the state has found temporary floating docks at the Port of Arlington on the Columbia River and a tug boat from the Port of Portland that could be used in Curry County if needed. State housing officials were looking for temporary homes for about 20 people whose houseboats were damaged.

Curry County Commissioner Dave Itzen said sport and commercial fishing took on new importance for the county’s economy after the timber industry dwindled in the 1980s due to logging cutbacks on federal lands. Unemployment in Curry County has been running at 13 percent throughout the Great Recession.

Echoing statements from state health officials, Kitzhaber downplayed the threat of radiation leaking from nuclear reactors in Japan, saying radiation poses no risk to the west coast of the United States.

Oregon has radiation equipment in Portland and Corvallis that are monitoring air quality.

Kitzhaber urged Oregonians to make donations for disaster relief in Japan, where a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunami killed thousands and left thousands more homeless.

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