Catalina Island bears brunt of damage from heavy surf

Catalina Island bears brunt of damage from heavy surf
A sailboat leans on the Catalina Laundry on Pebbly Beach Road in Avalon. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Just days into his vacation, Brian Pearson sat under an umbrella and stared toward the yellow caution tape stretched in front of the inviting ocean.

The float his grandchildren had stood on as they played in the water just days before was now gone, and a bulldozer had been brought in to scrape away the pebbles and rocks that had washed across the sandy Avalon beach.


"We've never had weather that affected our trip," said Pearson, 75, who has been coming to the island for about 35 years.

As enormous hurricane-spawned waves continued to pound the Southern California coastline Thursday — again drawing thousands to the shoreline to watch surfers and body boarders challenge the monster surf — residents, merchants, tourists and government officials took stock of the damage done. Piers had been weakened, buildings flooded and beaches hollowed out by the violent waves.

But nowhere was the damage as dramatic as on Catalina Island.

The waves and swollen ocean, created days earlier by a Category 5 hurricane off the coast of Baja California, tore apart piers, shoved boats on land, created sinkholes, ripped away pieces of a sea wall and sent boulders tumbling to the shoreline.

Even the ocean, as Pearson and other tourists discovered, was now off limits.

"When the final tallies come in, there's going to be a fair amount of damage. We've got a whole list of new to-dos," said Avalon City Manager Ben Harvey. "And we're still in the middle of busy summer season."

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service said the hurricane, now reduced to a tropical storm, continued swirling more than 800 miles southwest of Los Angeles over the eastern Pacific Ocean late Thursday, but was weakening. And although waves continued to soar as high as 25 feet at the Wedge in Newport Beach, most were reported to be half the size they were the day before.

About 300 people were rescued along Los Angeles County's 72 miles of beaches Tuesday and Wednesday, and an equal number were pulled from the waves in Orange County.

Late Thursday, the Los Angeles County coroner's office identified the male surfer who died Tuesday near Malibu Pier as Silverio Laconsay, 54, of Los Angeles. His cause of death was not immediately determined.

The massive surf sent the historic Cove House training building crumbling to the shore at Point Mugu State Park. It washed away a 25-foot section of breakwater protecting the Anaheim Bay in Seal Beach. Pilings at the Malibu Pier were swept into the ocean, and cargo operations had to be temporarily halted at the Port of Long Beach on Wednesday.

On Catalina Island, the waves "essentially destroyed" White's Landing Pier and another pier at Camp Fox, said Bob Reid, a spokesman for the Catalina Island Conservancy. The ocean was so clouded with debris and silt Thursday that one of the island's famed glass-bottom boat tours became a sightseeing outing instead.

Even the bright orange Garibaldi fish could not be seen in such murky conditions, explained Capt. Haley Stickler of Catalina Adventure Tours.

As the sun began to set Thursday, Jessica Marical, 30, and Katie Risdon, 34, turned off Pebbly Beach Road in a golf cart — the island's standard mode of transport — to survey the damage at the island's largest commercial laundromat. City officials described Catalina Laundry as a critical piece of the island's tourist economy, which handles about 50% of the dirty linens from the island's hotels, restaurants and vacation rentals.

As the cart puttered down the road, it passed a yard filled with boats flipped on their sides. At the laundromat farther down the road, rocks had spilled inside the building and a sailboat leaned against it, the broken mast balanced on the roof.


Risdon stared at the damage. "This is the kind of disaster that Catalina, as a small town, fears."