California ocean piers collapse, waves up to 35 feet

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California beach town residents saw collapsed ocean piers, 35-foot waves, tide surges, and widespread flooding on Thursday morning. 

Residents near the beaches in Santa Cruz, San Mateo counties, San Francisco, and Marin saw the chaotic coastal. 

On Wednesday night, an atmospheric river-powered rainstorm triggered evacuation orders for residents living closets to the beaches. 

Emergency crews press the public to stay away from the coast as the storm worsens and the tide rises to 35 feet. 

In the south, in Santa Cruz County, the iconic SS Palo Alto, also known as the “cement ship” broke away from the pier at Seacliff State Beach. 

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.”

On Wednesday night, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter circled over the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz. Witnesses heard a man screaming for help after he was apparently swept away in the flood-swollen river. It’s unclear if the man survived.

In San Mateo County, firefighters were dispatched across beachside neighborhoods as trees topples over homes, cars, and roadways. 

Firefighters say they are loaded with 911 calls from residents with reports of damages and emergencies. 

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.”


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.