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Tsunami debris? Log on Santa Cruz beach believed to be from Japan

Log found on Santa Cruz beach appears to be debris from 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami

A 20-foot-log found on a Santa Cruz beach last weekend is believed to have originated from Japan and drifted across the Pacific after the deadly 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The log was discovered on a remote beach about four miles north of Santa Cruz by an apprentice of Karl Bareis, a Santa Cruz-based carpenter who specializes in Japanese woodworking.

Bareis, who honed his expertise during five years of training in Japan, said the log has a three-sided notch where it would attach to another beam, a method that’s distinct to Japan.

“It’s easy to recognize if you know what you are looking at,” Bareis told The Times.

The log was most likely from a Minka-style home used by farmers or fishermen, Bareis said. Weighing more than 700 pounds, the wood beam is from a Cryptomeria japonica tree, a type of cedar that grows in northern Japan.

He reported the discovery to the federal agency that tracks debris from the Japanese tsunami, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program.

The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami -- which killed more than 20,000 people and injured more than 6,000 -- sent more than 5 million tons of debris out to sea. Of that, about 1.5 million tons is still floating in the Pacific Ocean, according to the Japanese government.

The NOAA has said it’s unclear how much of the debris remains in the ocean and where it may wash ashore.

Dozens of items spotted along California’s coast have been reported to the NOAA as possible debris from the tsunami. But as of early January, only one item had been definitely traced back to Japan: a 20-foot boat found in Crescent City, about 20 miles south of the Oregon border.

Community members are figuring out what’s next for the log and are contemplating whether to send it back to Japan or memorialize it near the Santa Cruz harbor, which suffered extensive damage during the 2011 tsunami.

Bareis is hopeful that fascination with the log’s discovery doesn’t eclipse the events that set its journey in motion.

“It got here and it’s a miracle,” he said. “It started as a huge tragedy and we don’t want this to become the story.”

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno

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