Damage Tops $65-Million in Savage Storm

Times Staff Writer

Damage estimates topped $65 million and continued to climb this morning as officials began the enormous task of cleaning up after the destructive winter storm that ravaged a 250-mile stretch of the coast from Santa Barbara south to the Mexican city of Ensenada.

Wind-driven surf threatened oceanfront structures again this morning as tides peaked above 7 feet at 8:38 a.m., but the waves were considerably smaller than the 25-foot breakers that destroyed part of a pier, damaged homes, restaurants and a hotel and forced beachfront residents and visitors to flee Sunday and Monday.

Sandbag levees, bulldozed berms and rock-pile seawalls hastily erected during the night were doing their job today, and there were few reports of additional damage.

"Everything we have done is holding," said Battalion Chief Gordon Pearson of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), joined Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana this morning for a helicopter survey of Redondo Beach, the city hardest hit by the surf. Dana said he will ask Gov. George Deukmejian to declare the community a disaster area, making residents and businessmen eligible for low-interest government loans.

King Harbor Chaos

Boaters plied Redondo's King Harbor this morning, pulling out debris that included logs, boards, pilings and assorted flotsam. Because undermined foundations posed the threat of further collapse, businessmen were still prevented from returning this morning to start removing muck from the shops, restaurants and hotel in Redondo Beach that were heavily damaged by the encroaching sea.

In Huntington Beach, road crews were scraping mud and debris from the Pacific Coast Highway, which was still closed to traffic near Bolsa Chica State Beach.

The onslaughts from the ocean were the final blows from a winter storm that had swept into Southern California with 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.

In addition, police said an unidentified transient apparently succumbed to the cold in a Skid Row alcove before dawn on Monday--the eighth death attributed to the inclement weather.

The storm--which moved east Monday, leaving clear, bright sunny weather here in its wake--brought blizzard conditions today to Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa.

Ensenada Boats Battered

Officials in Mexico reported this morning that 22 boats in Ensenada Harbor--most of them commercial fishing craft--were hurled against the rocky shore by the storm. Four of the boats sank, and damage to the fleet was estimated at $40 million.

Two charter boats off the coast of Baja California--both of them carrying U.S. passengers--foundered in the heavy seas, but all those aboard were rescued by Mexican vessels.

Locally, some of the heaviest damage was to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach. Pounding breakers ripped out six guest rooms at the inn, collapsing part of the roof and inundating the first floor of the hotel-restaurant complex.

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

City Manager Tim Casey declared a local state of emergency at 4:55 a.m. Monday and later, along with other city officials, estimated damage at $15 million to public property alone. About 25 private businesses, including the Pierpont Inn and 13 restaurants, were damaged, along with about 40 boats and 17 cars. Pilings were torn from the Redondo Beach pier, and several private docks were battered.

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.

'Coming Like Boxcars'

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

Thirteen people who crossed police lines in the King Harbor area without authorization were arrested this morning after they ignored orders to halt, Redondo Beach police said.

In 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.

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.

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.

Condominiums Battered

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

In the Venice area of Los Angeles, winds gusting at 40 m.p.h. drove heavy surf onshore Sunday 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.

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.

'Deck Went Out to Sea'

"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 patrons fled when a wave crashed through the doors, inundating the dining room with sand and seawater.

On Santa Catalina Island, 500 to 700 tourists were stranded overnight as tour-boat operators canceled regular trips between the mainland and Avalon due to heavy seas. But most found rooms in island hotels that often 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.

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, and county officials declared a state of emergency.

Full Force on Sunday

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 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.

The storm brought up to 2 feet of snow to Southern California's mountains, blocking most roads above 4,000 feet, including Interstate 5, the main artery to the north. I-5 remained closed until Monday afternoon, when Caltrans workers finished clearing away wind-swept drifts.

About 100 vehicles stranded overnight in snow on Highway 58 in the Tehachapi Mountains were finally dug out Monday afternoon.

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