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Deadly High Waves Batter Coast

Times Staff Writers

A surfer died and a young man is missing off a boat in Ventura as unusually high surf took a heavy toll on parts of the Southern California coast, including Venice Beach Pier, which will be closed indefinitely while engineers attempt to determine the extent of damage to its concrete pilings.

Late Friday, an 18-year-old remained missing after a small boat carrying him and three other family members capsized in rough seas near the mouth of the Santa Clara River, officials said.

The skiff carrying a father, two sons and his daughter capsized about 12:30 p.m. roughly 100 yards from shore, authorities said.

Three of the family members made it to shore, but one son did not, said Fire Marshal Glen Albright of the Ventura City Fire Department.

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The others were taken to Ventura County Medical Center with minor injuries. Authorities searched for the missing man until darkness fell. The search is expected to resume this morning.

Also Friday, authorities identified the surfer who drowned the day before about 150 yards off Carlsbad State Beach as Michael Meyers, 36, of Carlsbad. Meyers had a seizure while waiting to ride a wave and fell into the water, said Jessica Boyer, an investigator with the San Diego County medical examiner’s office.

Meyers, a world-class snowboarder, struck his head 10 years ago and suffered a seizure, Boyer said. He had a seizure last month but did not see a doctor, she said.

Other surfers have been injured along the coast, authorities said.

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The huge waves dragged a concrete public bathroom off the Venice Pier and into the sea amid a week of pounding surf that also beat up on sea life. The restroom, which held the beach’s foghorn, was knocked off its pilings early Wednesday.

“Never in my life have I seen waves this big,” said Jon Kirk Mukri, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, which oversees the structure.

The restroom was near the middle of the fishing pier in a section that extends out to the north overlooking Malibu. Workers will probably need to inspect the underwater portion of the damaged pilings, but they may have to wait up to two weeks for the waves to dissipate.

The National Weather Service said the high surf, caused by storms about 1,100 miles out in the Pacific, is expected to ebb throughout the weekend before kicking up again next week.

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The pier was closed for several months in 1983 because of a powerful storm, and then closed again in late 1986 when a plumber fixing a pipe noticed failing concrete that was causing a 120-foot section of the pier to slip from its pilings.

The pier didn’t reopen until October 1997, after a $4.5-million restoration.

The latest closure will continue at least until engineers can inspect the pier, said Mike Shull, manager of planning for the parks department and an engineer. “Right now the surf is pretty severe and supposed to get worse,” Shull said.

He said engineers have no evidence that the pier is unsafe “but the waves are sometimes breaking over the top of the pier and it will remain closed until the waves stop.... “

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A number of piers were temporarily closed when the surf peaked Wednesday, including at Manhattan Beach and in Ventura Harbor.

On Thursday, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton warned about possible flooding in the Venice, Playa del Rey and Dockweiler beach areas -- though no flooding has occurred.

In the winter of 1997-98, coastal cities throughout Southern California bulldozed giant sand berms into place to protect homes and try to stave off beach erosion.

Although the rains were significant that year, in some places -- such as Santa Monica -- the beaches were so wide that the berms were unnecessary.

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At Dockweiler, Zuma and Venice beaches, bulldozers this week reinforced sand berms protecting structures and homes, said Garth Canning, a Los Angeles County lifeguard chief.

Canning said a woman walking on a bike path in the El Porto section of Manhattan Beach was smacked by a wave and slammed against a fence, breaking her leg.

“You should have seen the surf on Wednesday, it was amazing,” Canning said. “The waves were just so huge the other day, people didn’t even think about going out to surf, with a very few exceptions.”

Canning said the waves that tore down the bathroom at Venice Beach probably had faces 25 feet long. Because the foghorn was atop the lavatory, the Coast Guard had to be notified that the warning system was no longer in place, he said.

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“Yesterday was so foggy, the foghorn would have been turned on for boaters,” Canning said. “We have no place to put it right now because the building that had it is gone.”

The heavy surf also appeared to have buffeted sea lions. Two died Thursday shortly after being brought to the Marine Mammal Care Center at San Pedro’s Fort MacArthur.

“With the weather conditions, more than likely it was a scenario were they were up in the tumble cycle and took a ride out there,” said David Bard, operations manager for the facility.

On Friday, some Venice Beach residents worried that the pier would again be closed for a long time.

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“To lose it twice would be heartbreaking,” said Clabe Hartley, owner of the Cow’s End coffee house on Washington Boulevard, just steps from the pier. “I go down there all the time with my dog. You get a great vantage from the pier ... and everything is really beautiful.”

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Associated Press contributed to this report.


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