SEAL BEACH — As storm-whipped waves pounded the beach, residents scrambled Wednesday to stack sandbags, clear out first floors and board windows against the encroaching shoreline.
Southern California's first storm of the season packed a hard punch all over Orange County, snarling traffic and sending breakers as high as 15 feet crashing toward shore. But nowhere perhaps was the anxiety more keen than in the Surfside community.
Tuesday night's storm had pounded at the ever-thinning line of precious sand between the community's homes and the sea. When the rain stopped Wednesday and the sun shone, residents were little cheered.
With another storm forecast for Friday, they know they're not out of danger.
"These waves are just awesome," said Surfside resident Sharon Arnstein, 52, who says the sound of the surf keeps her awake at night. "It's just a pounding, pounding roar."
Meanwhile, the rains wreaked havoc on Orange County roadways, causing major traffic tie-ups.
At 10:40 a.m., the driver of a tractor-trailer traveling north on the Orange Freeway in Fullerton lost control and crashed into the center divider, shutting down traffic in both directions for almost four hours. Four people were injured and seven vehicles were damaged.
"There is definitely a significant increase in traffic accidents out there," said California Highway Patrol officer Tim O'Toole. "A majority of calls were solo spin outs in south Orange County [and] . . . a series of very serious injury accidents.
"They all seem to be related to people driving too fast and following too close and not taking into consideration the driving conditions and the slick roads."
By afternoon, the showers had dissipated and moved eastward, giving the county a "chance to dry out a bit," said Dean Jones, a meteorologist for WeatherData, The Times' forecasting service.
But the hiatus will be a short one. Another storm was expected to hit Friday, bringing--like the one Wednesday--half an inch to nearly an inch of rain.
That left Surfside residents uneasy.
This year, for the first time, a crucial sand replenishment program, which was to rebuild the thin stretch of beach protecting Surfside homes, was canceled for lack of federal funding.
Residents are awaiting word from the city of Seal Beach on the status of a project to reinforce a revetment of boulders buried beneath the sand that helps protect the colony's beach.
Homeowners hope the reinforcement project, which will involve adding five-ton boulders to the revetment, will be completed by next week, when a seven-foot tide is forecast.
Resident Gino Salegui said: "We don't want something like San Francisco," where blustery storms this week helped create a sinkhole into which a Tudor-style mansion toppled.
Seal Beach Public Works Director Steve Badum said a contractor is set to begin work on the project Friday and will be on the job through the weekend.
The city and Surfside homeowners initially will split the $62,000 cost, residents said. But Badum said that the city will seek federal reimbursement once the crisis has passed.
"We feel the federal government has to take some responsibility in this," he said. "If they had replenished the sand, we wouldn't be having this problem."
Badum said the revetment is the community's last-resort protection against high tides and pounding surfs; it was never intended to be its only line of defense. The sand shortage occurred because jetties in the area blocked the natural deposit of sand, he said.
Up and down Orange County's coast Wednesday, lifeguards reported large swells. Waves were consistently in the six- to eight-foot range, with some reaching 15 feet.
San Clemente lifeguards reported breakers crashing beyond the city pier, more than 400 yards offshore.
In Seal Beach, lifeguards said they saw large waves breaking beneath oil platform Esther nearly a mile from shore.
The Orange County Health Care Agency issued an advisory to swimmers, warning that bacteria levels could rise significantly in oceans and bays, close to storm drains, creek outlets and rivers.
The problem could persist for at least three days, and health authorities advised swimmers to avoid any contact with runoff, which could include urban waste such as fertilizers, road oils, animal waste and litter. The runoff is not likely to contain human sewage, since the sewer system is separate from the storm drain system, officials said.
Times staff writers H.G. Reza, David Reyes and Tina Nguyen contributed to this report.