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Damage Tops $65-Million in Savage Storm

January 19, 1988|ERIC MALNIC | Times Staff Writer

Damage estimates topped $65 million and continued to climb this morning as officials began the enormous task of cleaning up after the destructive winter storm that ravaged a 250-mile stretch of the coast from Santa Barbara south to the Mexican city of Ensenada.

Wind-driven surf threatened oceanfront structures again this morning as tides peaked above 7 feet at 8:38 a.m., but the waves were considerably smaller than the 25-foot breakers that destroyed part of a pier, damaged homes, restaurants and a hotel and forced beachfront residents and visitors to flee Sunday and Monday.

Sandbag levees, bulldozed berms and rock-pile seawalls hastily erected during the night were doing their job today, and there were few reports of additional damage.

"Everything we have done is holding," said Battalion Chief Gordon Pearson of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), joined Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana this morning for a helicopter survey of Redondo Beach, the city hardest hit by the surf. Dana said he will ask Gov. George Deukmejian to declare the community a disaster area, making residents and businessmen eligible for low-interest government loans.

King Harbor Chaos

Boaters plied Redondo's King Harbor this morning, pulling out debris that included logs, boards, pilings and assorted flotsam. Because undermined foundations posed the threat of further collapse, businessmen were still prevented from returning this morning to start removing muck from the shops, restaurants and hotel in Redondo Beach that were heavily damaged by the encroaching sea.

In Huntington Beach, road crews were scraping mud and debris from the Pacific Coast Highway, which was still closed to traffic near Bolsa Chica State Beach.

The onslaughts from the ocean were the final blows from a winter storm that had swept into Southern California with gale-force winds before dawn Sunday, killing three people who apparently were asphyxiated in their snow-buried car in the Angeles National Forest and four others in a plane that crashed into a hillside in Newhall during a driving downpour.

In addition, police said an unidentified transient apparently succumbed to the cold in a Skid Row alcove before dawn on Monday--the eighth death attributed to the inclement weather.

The storm--which moved east Monday, leaving clear, bright sunny weather here in its wake--brought blizzard conditions today to Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa.

Ensenada Boats Battered

Officials in Mexico reported this morning that 22 boats in Ensenada Harbor--most of them commercial fishing craft--were hurled against the rocky shore by the storm. Four of the boats sank, and damage to the fleet was estimated at $40 million.

Two charter boats off the coast of Baja California--both of them carrying U.S. passengers--foundered in the heavy seas, but all those aboard were rescued by Mexican vessels.

Locally, some of the heaviest damage was to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach. Pounding breakers ripped out six guest rooms at the inn, collapsing part of the roof and inundating the first floor of the hotel-restaurant complex.

About 50 guests were plucked to safety, five at a time, by a radio news helicopter.

City Manager Tim Casey declared a local state of emergency at 4:55 a.m. Monday and later, along with other city officials, estimated damage at $15 million to public property alone. About 25 private businesses, including the Pierpont Inn and 13 restaurants, were damaged, along with about 40 boats and 17 cars. Pilings were torn from the Redondo Beach pier, and several private docks were battered.

Two Redondo Beach police officers were swept into the water but received only minor injuries. Frank Hubel, an Army Corps of Engineers official, was not so lucky--he suffered a broken leg when hit by a log hurled by the surf.

'Coming Like Boxcars'

"Debris was coming at us like boxcars," said Redondo Beach Fire Department Capt. Allen Allred, who helped evacuate some of the hardest-hit buildings. "Just shows you Mother Nature is still in control."

Thirteen people who crossed police lines in the King Harbor area without authorization were arrested this morning after they ignored orders to halt, Redondo Beach police said.

In Huntington Beach, another 200 feet of the city pier collapsed before dawn Monday, joining the 50 feet at the tip--and a two-story restaurant--that had tumbled into the waves about 8 p.m. Sunday.

The End Cafe normally stays open until about midnight, but City Administrator Paul Cook said the owner, John Gustafson, decided to close up early when the pier, built in the 1930s, began to tremble.

The cafe "is someplace in Newport Beach by now," said Lt. Jack Reinholz of the Huntington Beach Police Department. Parts of the pier drifted even farther south than that. "We had 8-by-8s coming through here like bullets," said Laguna Beach Police Department Sgt. Don Barney.

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