Massive waves and life-threatening beach conditions hit the California coast for a third straight day

Nathan Frontino/Reuters

A surfer catches wind from a wave at Mavericks Beach near Half Moon Bay, California on December 28, 2023.


Massive waves and coastal flooding are wreaking havoc in several California coastal communities for a third day, where extreme conditions have forced water rescues, washed away cars and injured a handful of onlookers.

Unusually large surf — often more than 20 feet high — prompted beach closures along the California coast and sent damaging waters flooding many coastal streets, homes and businesses.

In hard-hit Ventura County, waves surged over sea walls, carrying parked cars onto the street and into significant intersections, blocking the paths of first responders, Fire Capt. Brian McGrath told CNN affiliate TNLA. Flooding at a local hotel caused damage to all its ground-floor rooms, he said.

High water and dangerous rip currents have besieged much of the West Coast from Southern California to Oregon since Thursday, caused by a series of powerful storms coming ashore from the Pacific Ocean.

Richard Vogel/AP

Beachgoers watch as massive surf pounds the shoreline on December 28, 2023 in Manhattan Beach, California.

Although the dangers will ease for Northern Californians on Saturday, coastal areas of Central and Southern California will be battered by extreme surges that could reach about 25 feet in affected areas.

Some waves in the Gulf of California are expected to reach 40 feet — the size of a telephone pole — and others 28 to 33 feet.

Southern Oregon's coast will also see strong surf and high winds early Saturday morning. High surf warnings will be in effect for the area starting Saturday morning, with waves of 20 to 25 feet expected.

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Avid onlookers and enthusiastic surfers are enthralled by the spectacular surf, but local authorities are urging people to stay out of the water and away from the beaches due to potentially life-threatening conditions.

The National Weather Service in Los Angeles said, “Coaches, ships, vulnerable harbors should not be considered safe.” said.

Ventura County officials closed all beaches through New Year's Eve as waves swelled to 15 to 20 feet at the beach by Saturday evening. The county, along with Hermosa, Manhattan and Palos Verdes beaches, faces the most intense high tide on Saturday and is at risk of significant coastal flooding.

“We know the waves are interesting and we understand the desire to come here,” McGrath told TNLA Friday. “But we are asking people to stay away and stay out of the area for their safety and ours.”

Ventura first responders rescued about 10 people Friday “who thought they could go in that high surf,” the fire captain said. Two beachgoers helped pull a struggling lifeguard out of the water as a lifeguard tried to rescue a man near the beach and return him to shore, firefighter Andy Vanciver told CNN.

During Thursday's first round of rough surf, nearly 20 people were swept away by a wave that crashed into a beach barrier lined with spectators in the Pierpont section of Ventura Beach, authorities said. 8 injured people were taken to hospital.

“It was terrifying and devastating,” said Colin Hogue, who captured video of people scrambling to escape as high waves crashed into the barrier. The fast-moving sea water swept some people off their feet and toppled cars as drivers tried to speed away.

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“People screamed and screamed. I ran as fast as I could,” said Hoke.

One of the storms driving the waves will bring rain and wind to California through Saturday.

By Saturday morning, rain will move inland and across Southern California before weakening over the Rocky Mountains on Sunday.

Further inland, a wintry mix will fall over parts of central and eastern California. Over a foot of snow is possible on higher ridges and peaks and 6 to 12 inches is expected in lower elevation mountain areas.

CNN's Mary Gilbert and Cindy Van Quetno contributed to this report.

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