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High surf causes numerous water rescues in Calif.

First responders, residents of San Luis Obispo County faced flooding as high surf pounded the coast

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By Stephanie Zappelli,
The Tribune

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — High surf pounded the San Luis Obispo Coast on Thursday morning, causing multiple water rescues, flooding and closures.

A pickup truck overturned in Arroyo Grande Creek, and RVs were washed into the surf line at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

In Cayucos, higher surf crashed over the deck of the pier and onto Front Street, and in San Simeon, the high tide inundated beaches where elephant seals birth their pups.

High tide at Port San Luis near Avila Beach even reached 6.5 feet at 9:48 a.m., according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

The high surf could continue into the weekend, bringing with it a risk of flooding in low-lying coastal areas, according to the National Weather Service.

San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services director Scott Jalbert advised people in coastal areas to stay away from the waterline and avoid walking or driving on the beach.

He also warned of “rogue waves” which are larger than normal waves and “catch you off guard,” he said.

Last winter, a rogue wave struck a Cambria home and shattered its windows.

Jalbert urged people on the coast to “have situational awareness” and be prepared for rogue waves to strike again.

Water rescue, high surf reported at Oceano Dunes

Hazardous conditions were reported at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area on Thursday morning, where the tide swept away at least four vacant RVs.

While high surf pummeled the beach at about 8 a.m., Oceano resident Ed Collins watched emergency responders rescue a family from the waves.

A pickup truck driving north on the beach got stuck in the tide at the mouth of the Arroyo Grande Creek, he said.

The spot was located near 1872 Strand Way in Oceano, according to the emergency response app, PulsePoint

“The waves and high tide were just overwhelming the beach,” Collins said.

A family of about four or five people, including a toddler, were trapped in the truck. A lifeguard and State Parks officer swam out to the truck to rescue the family, he said.

“The waves started tossing the car around, and clearly the car was about to tip over,” Collins said. “They were in danger of getting sucked out, so they clamped onto the back of the pickup.”

The truck flipped upside down in the surf line soon after the family was safe on the shore.

At about 9:18 a.m., about six or seven recreational vehicles were stuck in the tide line and of concern to emergency responders. By 10:45 a.m., four empty RVs and a State Parks Vehicle had been swept into the water, according to emergency scanner traffic. The occupants had already evacuated.

At about 9:45 a.m., emergency responders asked 200 people in the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area to move to higher ground, according to Jalbert.

Longtime Arroyo Grande resident Janel Mitchell said she’s never seen such high surf at the Oceano Dunes before.

“This is the first time I’ve seen it up into past the parking lot and into the road,” she said. “I fear for the people that are not smart enough to stay out of the water when it’s like this — because here in Oceano there are a lot of rip tides.”

Cliff rescue at Pirate’s Cove

A hiker had to be rescued from Pirate’s Cove after falling off a cliff and into the water on Thursday morning.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Louis Ermigarat said a call came in around 11:30 a.m. for a man who had fallen into the water while hiking with another person.

As of 11:40 a.m., the subject could be seen just over the side of the cliff and was “secure on a rock,” according to emergency scanner traffic.

Cal Fire, Port San Luis Harbor Patrol, San Luis Ambulance and a California Highway Patrol helicopter all responded to the incident, and a local construction company doing work at Cave Landing Road also assisted in the rescue, Ermigarat said.

Additional engines were initially also requested due to the “potential complexity with the waves,” according to scanner traffic.

The man was rescued from the cliff and evaluated by EMS personnel around noon.

Ermigarat said he sustained minor injuries in the incident; the man could be seen with a bandaged head as rescue personnel escorted him from the cliff area soon after the rescue.

Cayucos , Pismo Beach piers closed

The Cayucos Pier closed on Thursday morning as heavy surf pounded the pilings and waves crashed up onto the deck, according to a Facebook post from resident Danna Dykstra-Coy.

Dykstra-Coy’s video showed ocean water spilling onto Front Street and Cayucos Drive an hour before high tide.

The Pismo Beach Pier was also closed Thursday due to the high tides, the Pismo Beach Police Department announced in an Instagram post on Thursday afternoon.

“It has been forecasted that high tides and storm surge will combine for hazardous coastal conditions over the next couple of days and we’re already seeing the evidence of it,” the department wrote in the post. “Due to this report, the city has decided to close the Pier.”

The Police Department also said it will be providing extra patrols on the Pier and beach.

City Manager Jorge Garcia said the closure was expected to last only through Thursday, “as the major portion of the swells will start to dissipate.”

Garcia added that the city is currently “monitoring the storm for damage.”

“It may be a few days before we have a total assessment of the damage,” he wrote in an email to The Tribune.

North Coast pounded by high surf, elephant seal beaches washed out

In San Simeon, the surf inundated beaches where elephant seals birth their pups, according to Friends of the Elephant Seal member Christine Heinrichs.

Some pups seem to have survived, but the south beach maternity ward was largely washed out and the north beach was mostly underwater, Heinrichs said.

In Cambria, heavy surf pounded Moonstone Beach, where Mike and Cathy Cowles of Diamond Bar watched the waves crash into the Leffingwell Landing bridge.

Dozens of others watched the spectacle through the haze created by the surf.

“Biggest waves we’ve ever seen here, and we visit here many times,” Cathy Cowles said. “It’s impressive.”

Nearby, at the Santa Rosa Creek Overlook vista point on Moonstone Beach, Jim Keally of Arizona took a photo of big waves as the ocean carried driftwood up into the flowing creek water.

“People are saying they haven’t seen anything like this in 15 years,” Keally said.

Earlier, he’d watched the high tide waves come in from the Leffingwell Landing boat launch parking lot and got caught by a rogue wave.

“A wave broke over my head, soaked me to the skin,” he said. “I had to go home to my brother’s house to change clothes.”

A bit farther north at Hearst State Beach, Andrew Crosby of Cambria, his son, Fin, and dog, Pfeiffer, watched high-tide waves pummel the already damaged San Simeon Pier , which has been closed for some time.

Fin Crosby called the waves “cool and big!”

“It’s incredible out there,” Andrew Crosby said.

Meanwhile, in Morro Bay, the tide splashed against Morro Rock and sprayed the nearby parking lot.

The Morro Bay Police Department closed the parking lot next to Morro Rock and the North Pit parking lot, the agency announced on Facebook.

The parking lots will “remain closed out of an abundance of caution until debris can be cleared and the structural integrity of the area can be assessed,” the Facebook post said.

Police also closed the street on the 1700 block of Embarcadero Road past the Morro Dunes RV Park.

“Those staying in the RV park will have access to and from the RV park, however, further southbound, traffic is prohibited through Sunday,” the Facebook post said.

Embarcadero Road was closed to vehicles from the 1200 block of the street to the Morro Rock parking lot, police said. Pedestrians were still permitted to walk on this stretch of the road.

State parks closed parking lots along coast

The heavy surf led California State Parks to close multiple parking lots along the North Coast from Montaña de Oro to San Simeon.

“We’ve closed two parking lots in Morro Bay, the lower lot at the San Simeon Pier, 24th Street, Studio Drive in Cayucos and Spooner’s Cove,” said Eric Hjelstrom, chief ranger for State Parks’ San Luis Coast District.

He said the lots would remain closed “while these conditions are in place,” which likely will include Friday and maybe part of Saturday.

“Once conditions are back to normal, we’ll get our guys out with the tractors to clean up all the driftwood” and other debris carried in by the waves, he said.

High surf struck seawall in Avila Beach

At the peak of high tide in Avila Beach, the surf ran all the way up the sand into the seawall at Front Street, inundating the swing set and even spilling onto the sidewalk near the park at the north end.

Visitors watched in awe along the sidewalk as sets of waves ran up the beach and shook the closed pier nearby.

David Broggie, of Santa Maria, stopped by to check out the surf while his car was getting repaired in San Luis Obispo. He said he used to surf in the area and would see conditions like this a couple times a year.

“I used to surf here in the ‘90s, 2000s,” he said. “I used to go out on giant days like this, crazy waves.”

Kenneth Lombard, who lives in the Five Cities area, was out riding on the Bob Jones Trail with his kids and hoped to spend some time on the beach.

He said he’s never seen the water this high in Avila Beach before.

“Not even close,” he said. “We were hoping to go on the beach and play a little bit, but yeah, not gonna happen, clearly.”

He added: “The waves will get big occasionally, but they break way further out, and the water definitely doesn’t make it this far up. There were a couple big waves. They made their way up, and it was splashing over the side here.”

Coastal flooding likely through weekend, National Weather Service warns

The Weather Service issued a high surf advisory for the coast of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties until 4 am. Thursday, but that has since become a high surf warning that will be in effect for the area through 10 a.m. Saturday.

The high surf warning was issued in response to large breaking waves of 15 to 20 feet and local sets up to 25 feet, according to the Weather Service.

The National Weather Service reported “significant wave heights” off the coast of San Luis Obispo on Thursday morning, with a buoy outside of Morro Bay recording wave heights of 23 feet at 17 seconds, the agency said.

Powerful cyclones in the Pacific Ocean caused the high swells, which created “extremely dangerous conditions” on the beaches, according to the Weather Service.

The Weather Service predicted the swells would subside on Thursday afternoon but increase again over the weekend — causing more high surf and the potential for coastal flooding through Saturday.

The Weather Service also issued a coastal flood warning for many Central Coast beaches, warning of the potential for significant flooding from Thursday to Saturday — especially in low-lying coastal areas around the morning high tides.

In its daily forecast, the Weather Service said astronomical tides are “running a few to several tenths of a foot above normal.”

That, coupled with the tides being at the peak of their monthly maximum, increased the risk of coastal flooding, the agency said.

“Overall, this has the potential to be an exceptional high surf and coastal flooding event that has not occurred in many years,” the forecast read. “Now is the time to prepare for potentially dangerous conditions materializing along the Southern California beaches.”

Coastal roadways and structures could potentially be damaged, the weather service reported.

The agency also predicted a light-to-moderate rain will start on Friday afternoon, and could extend into Saturday.

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