California beach town residents woke up Thursday morning to collapsed ocean piers, massive 35-foot waves, tide surges, and widespread flooding.
Coastal chaos stretched from beaches in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties all the way up to San Francisco and Marin. An atmospheric river-powered rainstorm triggered evacuation orders for residents living closest to the beaches Wednesday night.
Emergency crews urged the public to stay away from the coast Thursday morning as the storm and high tide continued whipping up a monster swell.
Video footage showed the Capitola Wharf split in half from a section of the wharf collapsing into the sea. Water from the ocean and Soquel Creek surged back and forth carrying massive tree trunks.
Farther south in Santa Cruz County, the iconic concrete SS Palo Alto, also known as the “cement ship,” broke away from the pier at Seacliff State Beach. Rain continued pouring at 11 a.m.
Santa Cruz County officials wrote, “The storm has caused significant damage throughout the county and along the coast, including heavy damage to piers in Capitola and Seacliff. High tide and large surf is a dangerous combination – avoid the coast.”
The Sheriff’s Office wrote, “There is currently a tidal surge threatening low-lying coastal areas. Due to large waves and high tides along the coastline, there is a threat to the safety of those residents. If you can evacuate safely, please do so immediately. If you are unable to evacuate, please shelter in place, move away from ocean facing windows. If your safety is in imminent danger due to wave intrusion or structural damage call 911.”
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was seen circling over the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz Wednesday night. Witnesses heard a man screaming for help after he apparently was swept away in the flood-swollen river. It’s unclear if the man survived.
Up in San Mateo County, firefighters fanned out across beachside neighborhoods where wind gusts blew trees on top of homes, cars, and roadways. Firefighters said they were inundated with “non-stop” 911 calls from residents reporting damages and emergencies.
Tidal surges flooded Stinson Beach in Marin County. Local residents who ventured to the beach had to run to avoid being swept up in fast-moving water.
Thursday marked Day 2 of California’s most recent atmospheric river storm. Relentless rain and high winds are creating tough conditions for emergency crews trying to cleanup damages along the coast.
Wave forecasters with Surfline said Thursday’s “bombing” west-northwest swell may be the biggest in 15 years for California.
Surfline wrote, “It’s been a while since we’ve seen a swell of this magnitude on the charts. It’s not only really big, but it’s also really west in direction.”
Pacific Operations Forecast Manager Schaler Perry wrote, “When compared against benchmark events, like the solid west swell from February of 2008, this one has a realistic chance to be larger. While we are of high confidence Thursday into Friday will see one of the top five largest west-northwest swells of the last 15 years, there’s potential it could be the largest.”
This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.