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Newport Beach in cleanup mode after storm swell, high tide flood Balboa Peninsula

A sand berm was rebuilt to hold off big waves and high tides at Balboa Pier in Newport Beach.
A sand berm was rebuilt to hold off big waves and high tides at Balboa Pier in Newport Beach. The berm successfully held off large waves on Saturday in contrast to the flooding that occurred on Friday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Newport Beach played host to a massive cleanup effort Monday after southern storm swells and a full-moon high tide Friday compromised a sand berm on the city’s Balboa Peninsula and sent water, sand and debris into city streets and residences.

City officials estimated the work — to be executed by a small army of street sweepers and city and contractor work crews equipped with brooms, blowers and shovels — could take from five to seven days.

“Our crews are on it and are going to be working as fast as they can, but we also need to be realistic — it is a pretty massive cleanup,” Newport Beach spokesman John Pope said Monday. “The amount of sand and debris that flowed out was pretty shocking.”

Weather forecasters said the coastal flooding was a result of a rare conjunction of increased swell caused by storms in the southern hemisphere along with higher-than-usual high tides caused by a full moon.

Ocean waves crashed over the sand at the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach and into parking lots and streets, destroying a 40-foot sailboat because of the dangerous combination of high tide and high surf.

“It was unlucky or coincidental we’d have this southern swell coming at the same time as the highest tides we’re likely to see this month,” said Miguel Miller, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s San Diego office. “There was definitely a confluence of factors.”

 The Newport Harbor entrance on the 4th of July as huge waves crash at the Wedge.
Huge waves crash at the Wedge as the cruiser Ry La Cade flies a huge U.S. flag during a run to the Newport Harbor entrance on Saturday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Miller said the National Weather Service, alerted by a forecast predicting surf up to 8 feet, issued a beach hazard statement early Thursday morning and later that day upgraded the warning to a high surf advisory for Orange County.

When it became apparent the full moon would coincide with the already risky wave conditions, the agency issued a coastal flood advisory notice for the area early Saturday.

“A long period of southern swell — these are the conditions surfers dream of,” Miller said. “But we issued the advisory to say look out for high surf, dangerous rip currents and hazardous swimming conditions. These are the things that usually get swimmers.”

Dean Pistone, 16, rides high along the beach near Balboa Pier in Newport Beach on Saturday.
Dean Pistone, 16, rides high along the beach near Balboa Pier in Newport Beach on Saturday.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Pope said lifeguards on duty Friday — before the city closed its beaches for the Fourth of July weekend, in part, due to concerns of the still-spreading coronavirus — reported making 100 rescues and issuing some 2,700 preventive warnings to beachgoers.

One lifeguard, Sean Richards, was commended by city officials on Monday for his heroic actions Friday afternoon, performing two back-to-back rescues before collapsing on the beach from exhaustion.

Stationed at the A Street lifeguard tower near the Balboa Pier at around 4 p.m., Richards noticed two teenage swimmers in distress, according to a city release issued Monday. After successfully extricating the first victim, the lifeguard returned for the second.

“Richards held the swimmer with one arm while heavy surf slammed them both to the ocean floor and held them under. The two were also pushed into pier pylons by the strong waves,” the release stated. “Richards was able to maintain his grip on the swimmer throughout the ordeal, and both made it to shore.”

By the time the National Weather Service had issued its coastal flood advisory, Friday’s high surf conditions had already caused water to breach a seasonal sand berm built by the city earlier this summer to absorb excess swell.

Beachgoers climb and sit on top of a sand berm that was rebuilt to hold off big waves and high tides at Balboa Pier.
Beachgoers climb and sit on a sand berm on Monday that was rebuilt to hold off big waves and high tides at Balboa Pier in Newport Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Pope said city and contractor crews immediately began rebuilding a new berm on Saturday.

“Our mission was to get the sand berm back in place and higher and wider,” he said, adding that eight pieces of heavy equipment — bulldozers and backhoes — were employed in the effort. “That was enough to protect the area from flooding on the second night and the third.”

Public Works and contractor crews turned out in full force Monday to clean up public areas near the pier, including a parking lot and some nearby city streets. The work is expected to last throughout the week.

“There’s a huge amount of sand and debris. [And] the flood overturned every trashcan in the beach parking lot,” Pope said. “It was a real mess.”

Workers clear sand and debris as a result of the flooding that occurred on Friday in Newport Beach.
Workers clear sand and debris on Monday as a result of the flooding that occurred on Friday in Newport Beach due to large swells and full moon high tides that pushed water into surrounding parking lots, fields and streets.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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