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Clean up in Newport Beach after big surf and high tides caused flooding, sailboat capsize

Mother Nature wreaked havoc in Newport Beach as the Fourth of July weekend got underway, sending ocean water flooding into streets late night on Friday, July 3, also causing a 40-foot sailboat to capsize and shatter into pieces and a traffic jam that kept vehicles from leaving the Balboa Peninsula for hours.

Beach closures put in place for the holiday weekend, similar to restrictions at most other Southern California stretches of coast due to coronavirus crowding concerns, gave workers breathing room to clean up the messy aftermath, with a bulldozer working early Saturday morning to push the muddy mixture from the Balboa Pier parking lot back onto the beach. They were also reinforcing a sandy berm wall to try and keep flooding at bay on Saturday evening when high tides return.



Newport Beach city spokesperson John Pope said the Public Works Department is assessing damage to homes from the flooding and clean up may take up to five to seven days.

“I think it’s safe to say there has been some property damage, we don’t know the full extent,” he said. “The city is still assessing some of the damage. There’s sand and trash just littered everywhere.”

Eight bulldozers are dedicated to moving sand throughout the day Saturday in Newport Beach to build the berm back up.

“They are rebuilding it taller and thicker than it was before,” he said. “Most of the old berm just got wrecked. They are building it higher and taller before the high tide.

“The intensity of the swell was so great it over-topped the berms,” he said. “Once that happens, it just topples. It’s just like a sand castle, it washes away.”

Workers will be on hand with heavy equipment through the evening to try and block the ocean if it again breaches the berm.

The crowd by the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach on Saturday morning was sparser than the usual Fourth of July mob, but even closed beaches and the quagmire overnight floods left in the parking lots didn’t keep everyone away.

Matt Bell, who lives in Tustin and is helping out his elderly parents who live on the Balboa Peninsula, was out walking his dogs and stopped to look at the surf.

While he’s seen what happens when high tides meet big surf before, “this is some pretty high surf, particularly for this stretch,” he said.

Cars that appeared to have sat in the parking lot overnight were splattered with muddy foam halfway up their wheels, and a handful were stranded in a shallow lake Saturday morning where water had not yet drained.

While this low-laying coastal area is prone to flooding when a big swell and high tide mix, long-timers say this is the worst flooding they’ve seen during a summer swell in decades.

At the Balboa Saloon by the Fun Zone, bar co-owner Butch Wilson watched Saturday morning as employees hosed down floor mats and pumped out water that had come in under the front door. “The whole floor was covered with mud and sand.”

The Fun Zone has flooded before, he said, pointing to a framed black-and-white photo on the wall from the 1980s showing water in the streets.

But it is unusual for high water to come from the ocean side across several streets to his bar, he said.

“I’ve been closed down for three months, so the bar was super clean, and now this happens,” Wilson said.

Marine Safety Chief Mike Halphide said Public Works employees worked through the night to clean up when they could.

The flooding happened as the long-interval south swell pushed with a higher-than-usual tide, he said.  Some bay water may have breached the seawalls that line Balboa in the Newport Harbor, but mostly the flooding came from the ocean, creating a river where the streets were supposed to be and pools of water that looked like lakes in the lots.

“There was just so much water in each wave. The size was big, but it wasn’t 20 foot. Then the high tide just hitting it,” he said. “We had quite a bit of flooding throughout our beaches, where the water crest the berm at Balboa Pier.”

There was up to a foot of sand under cars parked in the lot, he said.

Halphide was down at the beach assessing the flooding with other lifeguards Friday night when a 40-foot sailboat started pushing toward shore.

“I don’t know what the circumstance was of how they got into that position,” he said.

The people on board made it safe to shore and were assessed, with no one was transported to the hospital. A dog on board was rescued by people on the beach, he said.

“The bystanders were able to collect him and kept him until owners were treated and released,” Halphide said.

Lifeguards were assessing whether to tow the boat out to sea when it began breaking up and started to sink.

“It was rolling so violently in the surf, it wasn’t safe to put anyone in the water in such a short time,” Halphide said. “It went from being this beautiful 40-foot sailboat to a pile of debris. We tried to secure the scene as much as possible, that’s something we’ll have to take care of today. It smelled as if there was fuel in the water, but we couldn’t find any fuel tank.”

Royce Hutain was on the peninsula checking out the flooding when he saw the boat coming close to shore.

“When we saw that it was getting pushed ashore we waded across the thigh-deep water that was now covering the beach to get a look. Right when we got onto the higher part of the beach, we could see people from the boat and lifeguards near the boat. A large wave came in and pushed the boat toward them and I thought I was about to witness people get crushed to death,” he said. “Somehow they avoided the boat and everyone was OK that we could see. Within 15 minutes the sailboat was completely destroyed.”

Resident Mike Glenn was on his way home from a long drive from Sacramento when he was stopped by police blocking the road late Friday night. By 11 p.m., he decided to leave his car in the red zone, hoping to not return to a ticket or towed vehicle, and walked 13 blocks home.

He walked along the sidewalk, looking out toward where the water filled the streets, at times having to wade through water up to his shins.

“This is not a small area that was impacted by water. I don’t know how far it goes, but boy … far as I can see,” he said. “It’s just water in the road. There’s no road. Just water.”

Diane Edmonds, a photographer who was out shooting the Wedge, was stuck in traffic for more than an hour, waiting with her car turned off with a line of others as traffic stopped on Friday evening. “Water came up like a lake, that lake turned into a river. The whole pathway was just like a river.”

She watched a bulldozer head toward the Wedge, likely to build a berm to protect houses. Edmonds said the waves were so strong, beachfront houses were getting slammed, something she’s never seen in her years shooting the Wedge.

“Water was going up to houses, big lakes everywhere. A full-on river flowed out to the road and down the streets around Wedge,” she said. “As we left the beach, there was a river of shoes all along the path to Wedge and all the way down the street. I was trying to grab them and match up pairs for anyone looking.”

Halphide said they will watch conditions through the evening Saturday when the high tide returns, with hopes that the swell has already peaked.

“I’m sure it will still be large. We’ll have a bit of preparation time. With beaches closed, it will give Public Works a chance to put up preventative actions,” he said.

Fencing has been put up throughout Newport Beach to keep people away, a precaution city officials implemented earlier in the week knowing the big swell, combined with massive crowds, would put a strain on lifeguards who were stretched thin because two seasonal guards tested positive for coronavirus, with another two dozen in quarantine.

“I’m sure some people will find a way over and around it, but that allows us to deal with a few people rather than many,” he said. “We’re going to do our best. For the lifeguards obviously our emphasis is going to be on safety. If there are people in the water, we have our full staffing we had planned for prior to hard closure and we’re going to make sure everyone stays safe. Lifesaving will be the priority.”

Source: Orange County Register

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