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Weathering a 1-2 Punch : Heavy Rain and High Tide Combine to Flood Streets and a Few Homes in Newport Beach

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Commuters could face light showers this morning, but clear skies are forecast for this afternoon.

That will be a sharp contrast to the rain squalls that drenched Orange County on Sunday and caused flooding in Newport Beach.

A few residents were bailing out their homes and garages after an unusually high tide combined with intense rainfall along the coast, forecasters said. One resident reported seeing a small funnel cloud over the ocean as the heavy, isolated storm hit about 7 a.m.

Newport Beach officials said gauges showed at least 2 inches of rain fell during the morning storm, sending city crews to pump out flooded roads. The flooding was intensified because the rain coincided with the high tide, forcing city workers to shut storm drains about dawn to keep bay water from rising into city streets.

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Instead, the rainwater backed up in the drains and rose into streets. Tides peaked Sunday morning and will drop off this week, city officials said.

Karen Stewart watched late Sunday morning as her landlord helped pump out the kitchen of her home at 44th Street and Balboa Boulevard.

“I woke up and stepped into water up to here,” she said, pointing to a mark about a foot up her calf. “Everything that was out there [in the street] came down into my house because I am the lowest house on the street.”

Though streets were awash in water as deep as 18 inches, city officials said flooding into homes was rare. A few residents were busy about 11 a.m. sweeping out garages on the Balboa Peninsula. Police diverted traffic from the area, directing vehicles away at the intersection of Balboa Boulevard and 32nd Street.

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Residents who weren’t dealing with the rising waters turned the event into a brief festival, riding bicycles through the puddles or paddling dinghies and canoes through the streets.

Others tried skimming bodyboards across the small ponds that covered Lake and River avenues. Many just came out of their homes to gossip or place a soggy newspaper in the trash.

Jeff Hill of Newport Island pedaled his Schwinn while pulling a friend on a sailboard along Balboa Boulevard.

“We had to do something with all that water,” he said. “Might as well put a boat on it.”

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The California Highway Patrol reported minor weather-related accidents countywide but no fatalities or road closures

Most of the flooding was isolated to Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. There were no problems in Seal Beach or Sunset Beach, which are subject to flooding during high tides.

Newport Island homeowner Stan Swiatek said the island was cut off for about six hours, until 11 a.m., by a big pond that formed at the base of the single bridge entrance at 38th Street and River Avenue.

The high tide occurred at 8:28 a.m., and workers scurried around the peninsula opening storm drains beginning about 9 a.m. to allow runoff.

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Swiatek was one of scores of residents who stood around at the water’s edge or waited on doorsteps for the 6.2-foot tide to recede enough to allow the rainfall to drain into the bay.

Residents were seen sandbagging at the front entranceway to their home on 36th Street and Marcus Avenue, then flagging the occasional car to get the drivers to cut the wakes that would lap at the front patio wall.

Neighbors cheered at 10:20 a.m. as a city worker uncorked the drain at the foot of 36th Street.

“Oh yea,” one woman yelled. “Open it. Open it. That makes us all happy.”

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In the Cannery Village area, three doormats that had washed into the storm drains kept the area flooded after the tide had dropped. City workers had to use a truck-mounted vacuum running in reverse to blow the mats out of a clogged drain at Villa Way and 31st Street.

One of the mats was returned to a coffee shop, where a few hearty customers didn’t let the foot-high waters deter them from their breakfast. By 11 a.m., the rain had eased and the storm drains were gurgling. In another hour, the flood was a mere memory to most.

“It looks like Newport got the brunt of the storm. It went north and missed us,” said Seal Beach Sgt. Rick Ransdell, who reported no flooding in his city.

John Sherwin, a weather forecaster with WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasting for The Times, said radar estimates of the rainfall showed an inch an hour had fallen in the immediate coastal area of Newport Beach, with amounts ranging up to half an inch inland.

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WeatherData’s daily rainfall total for Newport Beach was .30 inch. Sherwin acknowledged, though, that the firm’s rain gauge might not have been in the area of the city where the precipitation was heaviest.

Other rainfall totals across Orange County were Santa Ana, .33 inch; Lake Forest, .30 inch; and San Juan Capistrano, .44 inch.

The rains were due to a cold front that passed through, Sherwin said.

“There could be some showers in the morning with sunshine by afternoon,” he said. “There will be a decreasing trend in clouds throughout the day, ending with sunny skies by evening.”

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Today’s temperatures were forecast as slightly cooler than seasonal, with highs expected in the mid-60s.


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