Huge Waves Cause Wide Destruction : Scores Flee as 25-Foot Breakers Batter Coastline

Times Staff Writer

Massive waves from a powerful winter storm continued to batter the Southern California coast Monday, destroying part of a historic pier, damaging exclusive homes, restaurants and a hotel and forcing scores of beachfront residents and visitors to flee for their lives.

Breakers up to 25 feet high, riding the crest of a tide that peaked near 7 feet at 7:52 a.m., slammed into beaches along a 135-mile stretch from Santa Barbara County south to San Diego County that had already been hammered by a nightlong siege of heavy surf.

It was still too early for any official damage estimates, but unofficial tallies put the total figure at more than $25 million.

Gale-Force Winds

The onslaughts from the ocean were the final blows from a winter storm that had swept into Southern California on gale-force winds before dawn Sunday, killing three people who apparently were asphyxiated in their snow-buried car in the Angeles National Forest and four others in a plane that crashed into a hillside in Newhall during a driving downpour.

Temperatures in downtown Los Angeles dipped to 50 degrees Monday morning as the storm pushed east, leaving behind a clear, bright, sunny day. Meanwhile, police said an unidentified transient apparently succumbed to the cold in a Skid Row alcove--the eighth death attributed to the inclement weather.

The storm dumped heavy snow in the mountains, blocking most roads above 4,000 feet, including Interstate 5, the main artery to the north, which remained closed until Monday afternoon, when Caltrans workers finished clearing away wind-swept drifts.

Los Angeles and Orange counties were pelted with up to 2.84 inches of rain that flooded inland intersections and triggered mudslides as the heavy surf pounded the coastline. Meanwhile, residents in coastal communities braced for another onslaught of high tides expected today.

'Ocean Just Broke Through'

Joanne Stathoulis and her husband, Pakis, were among the guests at the oceanfront Reuben's restaurant in Redondo Beach on Sunday night when the waves began breaking against the building.

"Everyone was cheering and clapping as the waves got higher," she recalled this morning. "Suddenly, there was a noise like an explosion and the ocean just broke through. . . .

"My husband was thrown to the floor and people were thrown on top of him," she said. "No one was cheering then. People just panicked. . . . People were pushing, just rushing around and getting into their cars and trying to get out of there."

Stathoulis said she could see across to the nearby Portofino Inn, where pounding breakers ripped out six guest rooms, collapsed part of the roof and inundated the first floor of the hotel-restaurant complex.

"It looks like somebody used a big, dull knife to cut off the southernmost end," said Lt. Jeff Cameron of the Redondo Beach Police Department.

About 50 guests were plucked to safety, five at a time, by a radio news helicopter.

"Usually, people are apprehensive about getting into a helicopter," the pilot, Bob Tur, said Monday. "But these people . . . they were just happy to get out of there."

City Manager Tim Casey declared a local state of emergency at 4:55 a.m. and later, along with other city officials, estimated damage at $15 million to public property alone. About 25 businesses were damaged as well, he said.

Two Redondo Beach police officers were swept into the water but received only minor injuries. Frank Hubel, an Army Corps of Engineers official, was not so lucky--he suffered a broken leg when hit by a log hurled by the surf.

Boats, Cars Damaged

Seventeen cars--five of them police vehicles--were damaged by the waves in Redondo Beach. Pilings were torn from the Redondo Beach Pier. A 65-foot fishing boat, the City of Redondo, and 11 other craft were ripped from their moorings and smashed to pieces in the surf.

"Debris was coming at us like boxcars," said Redondo Beach Fire Department Capt. Allen Allred, who helped evacuate some of the hardest-hit buildings. "The storm was the worst I've seen. Just shows you Mother Nature is still in control."

In the Orange County city of Huntington Beach, another 200 feet of the city pier collapsed before dawn Monday, joining the 50 feet at the tip--and a two-story restaurant--that had tumbled into the waves about 8 p.m. Sunday.

The End Cafe normally stays open until about midnight, but City Administrator Paul Cook said the owner, John Gustafson, decided to close up early when the pier, built in the 1930s, began to tremble.

Cafe Washed Away

The cafe "is someplace in Newport Beach by now," said Lt. Jack Reinholz of the Huntington Beach Police Department. Parts of the pier drifted even farther south than that. "We had 8-by-8s coming through here like bullets," said Laguna Beach Police Department Sgt. Don Barney. Sections of the same pier--and part of Gustafson's restaurant--were washed away in 1983 when a similar storm pounded the Southland.

Officials in Orange County declared a local emergency Monday--the first step toward receiving state aid for storm damage. The officials said that while no precise figures were available, damage in their county could amount to several million dollars.

In Laguna Beach, at least 20 luxury seaside condominiums in the Blue Lagoon development were battered by the surf, forcing the evacuation of several dozen residents.

Orange County employees worked through the night to erect a makeshift wooden seawall at the development, but to no avail. "It all came down this morning," said William Caldwell, who owns one of the damaged units. "The boards came down like match sticks."

Traffic at a Standstill

At one point Monday morning, commuter traffic in Laguna Beach came to a standstill when waves washing over the pavement closed much of Coast Highway north to the Los Angeles County line.

In the Venice area of Los Angeles, winds gusting at 40 m.p.h. drove heavy surf onshore in a scouring action that ground away yards of beach and flooded the "Justiceville" encampment there for the homeless.

About 100 of the homeless evacuated from tents there on Sunday were fed and housed overnight at a recreation center farther inland, according to Los Angeles Police Sgt. Mike Downing. He said several of the beach tents were swept away in the surf Monday morning before they could be dismantled.

Three other recreation centers were also opened to the homeless during the night.

Debris Floats By

In Malibu, where residents were evacuated from at least two apartment houses Sunday night, about 40 homes were damaged, many in the exclusive Malibu Colony area, when waves knocked out windows, tore away sun decks and ripped out fencing. At singer Joni Mitchell's beachfront home, the swimming pool filled with sand, and at oilman Marvin Davis' house, the front deck and patio were damaged. To prevent further damage from beach erosion, county fire workers spent much of the day removing a bulkhead from in front of an apartment house on Malibu Road owned by actress Shirley MacLaine.

"Don Rickles' deck went out to sea," actor Lee Majors, a Malibu resident, said, adding: "Everybody's put a raid on the lumber company today."

At Malibu's Sand Castle restaurant, breakfast diners fled when a wave crashed through the doors, flooding the dining room with sand and surf.

On Santa Catalina Island, 500 to 700 tourists remained stranded as tour-boat operators canceled regular trips between the mainland and Avalon due to high wind and surf, officials said. But most found rooms in island hotels that for the most part cut rates by 50% to 75%.

In Santa Barbara County, two Carpinteria homes undermined by the surf began slipping into the sea and some apartments were flooded by several inches of water.

Winds up to 55 m.p.h. in Ventura County drove waves over the breakwater and into the Ventura Harbor, but the 1,500 boats there escaped serious damage. Navy spokesmen said waves chopped "a few feet" off a pier at Pt. Mugu, and several storage buildings there were damaged.

Shattered Glass

To the south, in San Diego County, at least three people were injured by glass that shattered when waves burst through windows in oceanfront homes in Oceanside. Flooding closed a quarter-mile stretch of the coast highway--Old Route 101--in Cardiff. Heavy surf swamped beachfront homes in Del Mar, shattering windows and leaving some low-lying residential sections standing in water four to five feet deep.

San Diego County's Office of Disaster Preparedness estimated the total damage there at $6.3 million.

The San Diego Zoo was forced to close on Sunday for only the second time in its 71-year history when heavy winds broke limbs that threatened to fall on visitors. The first closure was also caused by a severe storm in November, 1982.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board began investigations Monday into the crash of a small plane near Newhall during the height of the storm that killed two married couples, all of them members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The plane, which apparently had detoured north in a futile attempt to avoid the heavy weather on a flight from Bullhead City, Ariz., to Brackett Field in La Verne, slammed into the grounds of an oil refinery about 1 a.m., coming to rest about 300 feet from the facility's main building, according to Mahlon Gillan, a spokesman for the Newhall Refining Co.

"Between where the plane was coming from and where it hit, they have gas tanks and jet fuel tanks, better than a half-million gallons of very volatile fuel," Gillan said.

The dead were identified as the pilot, Lt. Harry Parson, 50, and his wife, Deputy Theresa Pinocchio, 38, both of Long Beach, and Capt. George E. Reed, 43, and his wife, Rosemarie Reed, 47, both of Glendale.

Parson, an administrator at the department's downtown Hall of Justice, had been with the force for 27 years; his wife, who worked at the sheriff's emergency operations center in East Los Angeles, was a 13-year veteran.

Capt. Reed, a 20-year veteran, commanded the Men's Central Jail. His wife, who worked at the department's court service division, had been with the department for 18 years.

The bodies of the two men and a woman who died in the snow in the Angeles National Forest were discovered by accident Sunday while U.S. Forest Service rangers were rescuing two Boy Scout troops from campgrounds in the mountains, Ranger Dean Weakman said.

The rangers had gotten Caltrans to bring a snow blower to clear the road and then discovered the car where California 39 meets Angeles Crest Highway, about 13 miles north of Glendora.

Stuck in the Snow

Sgt. Robert Gonzalez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said the car was found with its ignition and heater switches in the "on" position and an empty gas tank. Gonzalez said that indicated that the three, apparently stuck in the heavy snowfall, probably were asphyxiated by engine fumes while attempting to stay warm inside the car.

The three victims were not immediately identified. The Boy Scout troops were brought down to safety.

The unidentified transient found dead in a Skid Row alcove Monday morning may have had blankets to help ward off the cold, but police said drag marks indicated that somebody probably stole them.

"When he died, they could have been taken," LAPD Sgt. Larry Thompson said. "Blankets are for the living."

The full force of the storm struck early Sunday, when many Los Angeles-area residents woke up to thunder and lightning storms that blacked out power for brief periods of time to more than 70,000 homes and businesses. A Los Angeles Department of Water and Power spokesmen reported outages to 22,000 other city residents Monday.

Season's Rain Total

The storm deposited 1.23 inches of rain at the Los Angeles Civic Center before moving east, according to the National Weather Service. NWS meteorologists put the season's total at 6.83 inches, just over the 6.32 norm for this time of year.

Pat Cooper, a meteorologist for WeatherData Inc., a firm that provides forecasts for The Times, said the weather should be a lot more pleasant for the next few days--"fair and breezy"--with the winds and the surf decreasing markedly.

For a few Southern Californians, however, the disappearance of the storm was like the loss of an ally.

The snow brought the prospects of good skiing in the mountains, and the heavy seas gladdened some beachgoers' hearts.

"The waves are incredible today," said Michael Olson, a Santa Monica surfer. "I can't ever remember when it was better."

Contributing to this story were staff writers Steve Chawkins in Ventura, Miles Corwin in Santa Barbara, Ken Garcia in Malibu, Sheryl Stolberg and Karen Roebuck in Redondo Beach, Steven R. Churm and Mariann Hansen in Orange County, Nieson Himmel, Lynn Steinberg, Penelope McMillan and John Kendall in Los Angeles and Leonard Bernstein, Andrea Estepa and Nancy Ray in San Diego.

STORM RAINFALL Los Angeles basin

Avalon/Catalina: 1.10 Culver City: 1.46 Long Beach: 1.39 L.A. Civic Center: 1.23 L. A. Int'l. Airport: 1.40 Montebello: 2.12 Santa Monica: 1.37 Torrance: 2.00 Westwood: 1.68 Southland valleys/canyons Monrovia: 2.84 Northridge: 1.74 Pasadena: 2.41 Riverside: 0.83 San Bernardino: 1.11 San Gabriel: 2.80 Woodland Hills: 2.12 Southland mountains Mt. Wilson: 3.64 Northern deserts Lancaster: 1.40 SEASON TOTALS: Total for month: 1.39 Season total (since July 1): 6.83 Last season: 5.38 Season norm: 6.45 Wind, rain, waves, snow and cold claimed at least eight lives and caused extensive damage in the Los Angeles area Sunday and Monday. Among the damage in Los Angeles and Orange counties:

1. Interstate 5: The highway was closed by snow until mid-afternoon Monday from Lake Hughes Road near Castaic to the Kern County line.

2. Newhall: Two men and two women were killed when a single-engine plane crashed into the grounds of an oil refinery shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday during a rainstorm.

3. Angeles National Forest: Three people died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their automobile while apparently trying to keep warm after getting stuck in a snowdrift.

4. Malibu: Two apartment houses were evacuated and at least 15 homes damaged as waves broke windows and swamped interiors.

5. Downtown Los Angeles: An unidentified transient, discovered Monday morning, died of exposure in a building alcove on Skid Row.

6. Venice: Nearly 100 homeless people, evacuated when their tents collapsed in the wind and were swept away in the surf, were being housed Monday at a recreation center.

7. Redondo Beach: Fifty people were evacuated by helicopter from the roof of the Portofino Inn, near the pier, part of which collapsed under the stress of the breakers. Several other restaurants were severely damaged, six boats sank in King Harbor and at least 17 cars were carried away or covered

by the seawater, which flooded coastal parking lots. A number of minor injuries were reported and damage was estimated at $15 million in public property alone.

8. Seal Beach: The end of the pier was damaged Sunday night.

9. Huntington Beach: About 250 feet of the city pier was torn apart and a two-story restaurant collapsed into the sea.

10. Pacific Coast Highway: Flooding closed the seaside road from Laguna Beach to the Los Angeles County line, causing a large traffic snarl Monday morning.

11. South Laguna : Twenty expensive seaside condominiums were damaged by surf, which tore away makeshift barriers.

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