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Southern California beaches battered by storms and surge, but spared major damage

The beach path and parking lots are covered in sand at the north end of Bolsa Chica State Beach after recent storms in Huntington Beach, CA, on Wednesday, January 11, 2023.

Posted on January 16, 2023

With a break in the storms, crews are cleaning up the mess left behind following the recent big surf and heavy rains that battered the region in the past week.

The north end of Bolsa Chica State Beach’s parking lots, closed for nearly a week following a flooding of seawater that stretched across the sand and into Pacific Coast Highway, will reopen by Thursday, Jan. 11, following extensive clean-up efforts, said State Parks Superintendent Kevin Pearsall.

Crews worked 17-hour shifts in recent days to remove debris and sand, he said, from the lots and the multi-use trail after the rain storm that hit last Thursday mixed with extreme high tides and a hefty swell to overwhelm the shore.

“It’s insane the amount of trash and debris and driftwood,” Pearsall said. “We’re asking people to be cautious and courteous of the cleanup process and so far everyone has complied.”

Pono Barnes, spokesman for Los Angeles County Fire Department lifeguards, said no major damage was reported at South Bay beaches, though there was some sand erosion due to the high surf.

Workers will continue building up berms at vulnerable stretches of coast ahead of the next big swell heading to the area Friday and into the weekend, he said.

Carol Baker, spokesperson for Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors Department, said workers are continuing to move in sand and, where appropriate, add rocks to shore up the trouble areas, specifically at Point Dume and Dockweiler beaches.

The pier in Seal Beach will remain closed at least until next week, said Marine Safety Chief Joe Bailey. Crews will be surveying the pier in coming days to determine the extent of the damage incurred during last week’s big swell that slammed the coast.

Several large wooden pilings and the boat ramp were ripped off of the pier, which remains closed until inspectors can determine if it is sound enough to reopen, he said. “We’re hoping it’s not a huge structural damage.”

The beach path and parking lots are covered in sand at the north end of Bolsa Chica State Beach after recent storms in Huntington Beach, CA, on Wednesday, January 11, 2023.

The lingering high surf has kept divers from being able to safely get in the water and check under the pier, Seal Beach Police Capt. Nick Nicholas said Wednesday, Jan. 11. “However, it looks like tomorrow the conditions will be better, and we should have more information next week.”

Flooding from the latest storm was contained to the parking lots and on the beach in town, Bailey said. “We were able to keep it off the boardwalk.”

The Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT,  was out filling sandbags in the parking lot for residents to protect property earlier this week.

The sand berm built in front of beachfront homes held up, but with a new big swell on the horizon for Friday that could bring 5- to 8-foot waves, Seal Beach workers will keep an eye on the sand wall to see if it needs to be rebuilt, officials said.

“We’re paying close attention,” Bailey said. “The forecast isn’t as big, but it’s still awfully big.”

A big swell hit the region Wednesday, with waves in the 6- to 8-foot range and even larger in some coastal areas. Pearsall said sets of 14 feet were slamming Bolsa Chica, but no flooding occurred because the accompanying tides were lower than last week.

The surf is expected to drop slightly Thursday, with a new northwest swell and waves in the 5- to 8-foot range expected Friday and Saturday, before dropping slightly Sunday in Orange County, according to The waves are expected to be larger, in the 8- to 12-feet range, on Friday in the Los Angeles area.

The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach is reporting a roof leak that is causing damage to the ceiling tiles. The center had to shut down its treatment and nursery area until repairs are done.

“Wounded wildlife needs our center to be fully operational,” Executive Director  Debbie McGuire said.

The center had to bring all the birds inside and built indoor pools until damaged electrical systems can be fixed, she said.

Crystal Cove State Beach, where historic cottages sit on the sand, has also suffered in recent weeks, with a lot of sand loss and erosion during the storms, Pearsall said. “Right now, there’s very limited beach availability.”

Also, an access road leading to a lifeguard tower at El Moro was washed away by the storms, Pearsall said. And, further south, the dirt parking lot at San Onofre’s Surf Beach remains closed due to mud.

The south end of the parking lot at Capistrano Beach, which was already closed to the public, experienced some minor erosion from the most recent storm, said Danielle Kennedy, OC Parks interim public information officer.

A small portion of the sidewalk was also closed following the storm. At Aliso Beach, the front half of the west parking lot remains closed as crews continue to clear sand from that area, she said.

Newport Beach spokesman John Pope reported some pools of water around Balboa Island and the peninsula following the storm, as well as a large amount of trash that flowed down the Santa Ana River to the shore.

Pope said crews expect trash to wash down the Santa Ana River within the next 24 to 48 hours as water recedes from inland down to the ocean.

“There’s not that much right now, we’re expecting it in the next day or two as the river flows,” he said.

Heavy machinery will be helping as early as 7 a.m. Thursday to scoop the trash off the beach, as well as crews cleaning by hand through the day.

“We want to get to as much of that as we can before the tide picks up,” he said.

Considering the damage across other State Parks properties, especially in Northern California where beaches, campgrounds and structures were destroyed, Orange County has been lucky, Pearsall said.

“Orange County is incredibly fortunate,” he said. “We’re very fortunate so far with these storms.”

Because of the recent rainfall, rain advisories are in place throughout Los Angeles and Orange County. Surfers, swimmers and divers should stay out of the water for 72 hours following storms due to high bacterial levels that can cause illness, officials warn.


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