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Surf Floods 3 Homes

Storm: Wind whips up 10- to 20-foot waves in Seal Beach as residents scramble to stack sandbags.


SEAL BEACH — Surf driven by Hurricane Nora surged over the beach here before dawn Thursday, damaging three oceanfront houses and threatening dozens more, but retreated by early evening as 3,000 people jammed the pier to watch the high waves.

What had begun as a frantic day for residents rudely awakened by pounding waves at 4 a.m. ended in a party atmosphere, with beer-sipping spectators crowding the beach to see whether the flooding would continue.

The storm dropped about half an inch of rain in Orange County, and wet roads contributed to a number of traffic accidents before showers tapered off late Thursday. The California Highway Patrol reported one fatality.

Whipped by high winds, 10- to 20-foot waves washed across a half-mile area near downtown Seal Beach at 4:30 a.m.

"The sound of the waves woke me up," said Betty Moore, 78, who has lived in her home at 14th Street and Seal Way since 1956.

No evacuations or injuries were reported. But the storm caused extensive flood damage to three houses and threatened 45 others on Seal Way as seawater seeped into garages and lapped at beach-side porches.

"It was breaking like 'The Poseidon Adventure' over the beach," Seal Beach Police Officer Michael Vasquez said.

Sleepy residents scrambled to fill and stack sandbags, while the Orange County Fire Authority rushed machinery and two 12-person crews to help the city's Public Works Department construct a berm that stretched for six blocks. Workers ferried sandbags by kayak to nervous residents.

"Standing in the alley, you could see the waves coming at you. It was scary," said Kathleen Nelson, who lives on Ocean Avenue in the neighborhood where most of the flooding occurred.

Dave West, who lives on 12th Street, bolted out of bed at 4 a.m. thinking an earthquake was happening.

"I heard a rush of water and felt a pounding," West said. "I looked outside, and the water was streaming across the street.

"By 6 a.m. I had 2 feet of water in the hallway," West said. Rescue workers surrounded his garage with sandbags.

As heavy machinery built up the berm and dug a drainage channel, lifeguards closed the beach at 9 a.m. to keep people from being injured during the emergency work. But surfers, to their delight, were allowed into the water.

"These are the best waves these guys have seen in years," Fire Authority spokesman Dennis Shell said.

Through the day, residents watched in awe as massive waves slammed into the shore, while authorities pored over weather forecasts and girded for high tide at 6:18 p.m.

At 7 p.m., bulldozers were still piling sand on the 8-foot-high berm, but it appeared to be holding back the water, to officials' relief. "I think we're going to be just fine," Seal Beach Police Lt. Kenny Mollohan said. "You can see the water cresting over the beach, but the berm is holding. We won't be evacuating."

Seal Beach resident Chris Bennett was among the spectators late Thursday. "I think everybody is kind of let down. We were expecting more. But the people who live over there [where the flooding occurred] are happy."

Scott Dekraai of Seal Beach, holding a beer and smiling broadly as he watched the surf from his second-floor patio, said: "No problem, no problem at all. I think we made it just fine."

Southern California was spared the sort of devastation that the storm had wreaked on Mexico's Baja California earlier this week. But the effects were widespread.

In Yuma, Ariz., heavy rain triggered floods, knocked out electrical power and snarled traffic.

As much as 4 inches of rain fell in the mountains of San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Rainfall was generally lighter but still substantial in Los Angeles County.

Agricultural officials in Imperial County, which provides a large share of the nation's winter produce, estimated that the storm caused $4 million in crop damage, mostly to lettuce, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. That damage could increase if mold sets in, the officials said.

Almost 2 inches of rain fell in Palm Springs. The runoff flooded several streets in the desert resort city and in nearby Indio, but there were no reports of major damage in the Coachella Valley.

San Diego reported a few flooded streets and high surf, but officials said no major damage was apparent.

In Orange County, the daylong rain contributed to an overwhelming number of fender-benders on freeways and city streets across the county.

"Normally we have 600 to 700 incidents on a day like this," said Officer Kari Keul of the California Highway Patrol. "We're now at 1,130," she said at 5 p.m.

"At one point in one half-hour period, we had 30 reported collisions."

Most of the accidents were minor, officials said, but one was deadly.

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