The rain stopped and skies cleared, but the remnants of two storms pounded Southland beaches Saturday with waves 12 to 20 feet high.
Piers in Santa Monica, Venice, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Seal Beach, Huntington Beach and South Laguna were battered by the waves and closed to the public.
In San Diego, heavy swells forced the harbor patrol to close the entrance to Mission Bay. The pier at Ocean Beach was declared off limits when waves began crashing over its sides.
"We are afraid people are going to be washed away," said Ted Clair at Los Angeles County's regional lifeguard headquarters. "And we are afraid the pier in Manhattan Beach might go down."
But by nightfall there were no reports of serious damage to any of the structures.
The battering was one of the worst to hit the area since January, 1983, when ocean storms ripped away large portions of piers and ocean-front homes between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border.
While beaches were eroded and several piers were slightly damaged by Saturday's waves, no major damage or flooding was reported.
Fishermen in Trouble
In Seal Beach, shortly before authorities cleared an estimated 1,500 people from the municipal pier, lifeguards and police rescued three fishermen who had motored their inflatable boat past the bay entrance and into the mammoth waves.
Seal Beach Lifeguard Lt. Dan Dorsey said waves hurled the three men out of the 15-foot boat and all three started swimming toward the jetty. The frantic swimmers were spotted by a patrolling Huntington Beach police helicopter, which picked up three lifeguards and dropped them near the boaters. The helicopter, timing its descent during the seconds between big waves, descended to the surface of the water, where the boaters and lifeguards grabbed the helicopter skids and were finally ferried back to the shore, Dorsey said. "They could easily have been killed," one lifeguard said after the rescue, but none of the boaters was injured.
At the other end of San Pedro Bay, three people were picked up by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter after their 40-foot fishing boat capsized about a half mile from Los Angeles Harbor. They were clinging to their capsized boat, which later washed ashore near Point Fermin.
Anthony Louros, 25, of San Pedro was taken to Torrance Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for a cut on the head. The other two people were not injured, a spokeswoman said.
The Coast Guard offered no details as to the cause of the accident, but a meteorologist for the National Weather Service said waves all along the coast were large enough "to be of interest to even the larger ships."
National Weather Service spokesman Stan Massey said the high waves were caused by massive wind patterns that also caused last week's rainstorms.
Although swells are expected to subside, the Weather Service issued another heavy surf advisory for today at all west-facing beaches and harbors.
Small craft operators were also warned of hazardous sea conditions today in the inner and outer coastal waters.
On Saturday, lifeguards all along the coast reported waves up to 20 feet, with hundreds of surfers rushing to the beach to take advantage of the good surf. The waves hit hardest at west-facing beaches and piers, the Weather Service reported, because the swells were generated directly west of the Southern California coastline.
"It is a career day for surfers," said Bill Powers, a lifeguard at Topanga Beach shortly after he rescued a 15-year-old surfer from the waves. "There is a lot of water moving around out there, and he just couldn't get back in."
"We've got some of the largest waves we've had in three years," said Norton Wisdom, a lifeguard at Santa Monica beach.
The huge waves began tearing at some piers in Los Angeles and Orange counties that had only recently been rebuilt after they were damaged by storms three years ago.
Pilings Were Loose
Lifeguards in Huntington Beach--where 30 pilings, about 500 square feet of decking and a restaurant were torn away or damaged three years ago--evacuated and closed the pier at mid-afternoon Saturday when loose pilings were discovered.
Waves occasionally scraped the deck of the Seal Beach pier, dislodging several cross members there, lifeguards reported. The pier, nearly wrecked in 1983, reopened just a year ago.
And the 72-year-old Manhattan Beach pier was shut down shortly before noon by lifeguards and police after high waves posed safety problems, police said. The weather-ravaged landmark has been falling apart for years, and officials have already placed a chain-link fence under the pier to collect falling concrete.
In Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and San Clemente, waves were smaller--topping at eight feet or so--and hundreds of surfers took to the water. "They have been putting on quite a show for bystanders," a lifeguard in San Clemente said.
Stayed Out of Water