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18-foot waves pummel piers, chunk out sand and flood parking lots along Southern California coast

Big waves – some topping 18 feet in Los Angeles County – wreaked havoc on Friday, Jan. 6, as high tides and a winter swell continued to work over the Southern California coastline leading to beach erosion, pier closures, crumbled asphalt parking lots and boats torn from their docks.

In the South Bay, piers at three west-facing beaches remained closed Friday as waves more than 15 feet tall pummeled the structures.

In Seal Beach, high surf and wind pummeled the pier, and officials decided to “temporarily close it in an abundance of caution.” Part of the boat ramp used by oil platform workers was damaged. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

High surf along west facing beaches in the southland had the Manhattan Beach Pier closed on Thursday January 5, 2022. (Photo by contributing photographer Chuck Bennett)

Waves crash over the Redondo Beach break wall near the King Harbor Yacht Club on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. A series of storm systems moved into the area, causing waves upwards of 12 feet high along the South Bay coast. (Photo by Maxwell at eMaximize.com)

A man treks out to the shore despite rain in Long Beach on Thursday, January 5, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Large waves hit the pilings of the Huntington Beach Pier early Friday morning, January 6, 2023 in Huntington Beach. The recent storm that brought rain, wind and snow to most of California, has also brought large, and in some areas, damaging surf. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Water from a large shorebreak wave makes its way nearly a hundred yards up on to the beach just south of the Huntington Beach Pier early Friday morning, January 6, 2023 in Huntington Beach. The recent storm that brought rain, wind and snow to most of California, has also brought large, and in some areas, damaging surf. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

A beach goer looks on as a large shorebreak wave hits the beach just south of the Huntington Beach Pier early Friday morning, January 6, 2023 in Huntington Beach. The recent storm that brought rain, wind and snow to most of California, has also brought large, and in some areas, damaging surf. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

High surf along west facing beaches in the southland had the Manhattan Beach Pier closed on Thursday January 5, 2022. (Photo by contributing photographer Chuck Bennett)

High surf along west facing beaches in the southland had the Manhattan Beach Pier closed on Thursday January 5, 2022. (Photo by contributing photographer Chuck Bennett)

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Additionally, the high surf and tide surge swamped a block jetty at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, flooding and closing the nearby parking lot. Mounds of sand buried a bike path that runs from Torrance Beach to Avenue H in Redondo Beach and sea water flooded into a parking lot and public bathroom facility.

In King Harbor, massive waves overwhelmed a breakwater jetty and ate into the asphalt parking lot nearby.

“There were 15-foot-plus waves breaking directly onto the rocks at Redondo Harbor,” said Lifeguard Capt. A.J. Lester, a spokesman for Los Angeles County’s Fire and Lifeguard Division. “The parking lot is built on the rocks of the breakwater and the pressure caused the asphalt to break apart like it was an earthquake.”

The piers at Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Venice Beach were closed in an “abundance of caution” because of the strong west-northwest swell, which crashed surf over the top of the structures. It arrived Thursday along with the rainstorm and was expected to last through Friday, coinciding with a period of high tides.

The piers will remain closed until city crews assess the structures to ensure they haven’t been compromised, likely a day or two, said Capt. Kealiinohopono Barnes, also with the Los Angeles County division.

“It’s a question of stability after such a prolonged force from the waves,” he said. “The beaches there will remain open, but there is a water quality advisory all through Santa Monica Bay.”

In Seal Beach, high surf and wind pummeled the pier, and officials decided to “temporarily close it in an abundance of caution” and to allow for inspection, the city announced Friday. Part of the boat ramp used by oil platform workers was damaged. No timeline for reopening was given.

Crews from the Orange County Fire Authority and Seal Beach Public Work’s Department built sand berms to reinforce the beach. OCFA heavy equipment crews were also busy Friday digging and draining water from the north side of the pier to prevent seawater from entering any structures and homes.

Surf off Manhattan Beach at El Porto hit as high as 18 feet, though other areas of county shore were more manageable.

“We’ve had considerable erosion,” Barnes said of the waves that ate at the sand. “We’ve lost so much in a short timeframe.”

In Laguna Beach, high waves tore down parts of a sea wall at a home in North Laguna, flooded the coastal side of Coast Highway and Broadway, damaged the foundation of a lifeguard tower at Oak Street leaving it tilting toward the surf zone and tore off railing and staircase steps at Woods and Moss beaches.

Aliso Beach’s parking lot was temporarily shut Friday after flooding, but its east side was opened later in the day. The west side of the lot remained closed while crews continue to clear debris. Officials expected work to continue Saturday.

In Capistrano Beach, the parking lot was also closed most of Friday, but reopened by the end of the day.

Lifeguards caution that though the waves might look tempting for surfers, those who go out

A lifeguard tower at Oak Street Beach tilts precariously toward the surf zone after getting pummeled by high waves and tides. (Photo by Patsee Ober)

should be sure of their abilities. Especially in the next few days, as the surf declines, the water may appear more welcoming, but the threat of rip currents will be greater – especially along the South Bay beaches where the sea floor has gotten carved up more from all the turbulence and wave action.

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“That’s when we see a lot of rescues, because the rip currents get really strong and people get caught in them,” Barnes said.

Water quality is also a concern after rain storms, which can wash inland runoff with pollutants and debris to the ocean. Officials typically advise staying out of the water for 72 hours after a storm. On Friday, Orange County health officials were recommending staying out of the water until at least Monday.

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