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THE SEASON'S FIRST STORM

Day of Watching, Waiting for Seal Beach's Coastal Residents

Storm: Owners of beachfront homes sandbag, check supplies and look for signs that surf might breach barriers at afternoon high tide.

September 26, 1997|JANET WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEAL BEACH — At 3:07 p.m. Thursday, a single wave licked the top of a hastily constructed sand berm in front of Seal Way and rolled down toward the Moore house.

"One just leaked over the wall," a neighbor, Fred Hoatlin, warned.

Monte Moore, 73, and his grandson, Scott Dekraai, 27, both jumped up, then tried to appear relaxed.

"It came over the top of the wall?" Moore asked. "All I can say is I'm glad I've got my grandson here. He's the skipper."

Dekraai half settled back in an easy chair and said, "We're all set, Grandpa, don't worry."

Moore and his wife, Betty, 75, have lived in their beachfront home near 14th Street on Seal Way for 41 years. Their daughter, Michelle Dekraai, who grew up in the home, said: "We're just confirmed beach rats. We're beach bums, that's all there is to it."

After a grueling morning lugging sandbags through thigh-high water, stocking up on groceries and checking water supplies, the Moores and several other hundred beachfront residents spent the afternoon anxiously gazing at huge gray-and-brown ocean swells, waiting for high tide at 6:18 p.m.

"If that ol' ocean rolls up, there's nothing else we can do," said Betty Moore, taking a break after feeding sandwiches to neighbors and bulldozer drivers.

Salespeople offering emergency carpet cleaning dropped by like flies through the afternoon.

"Can you believe these people? That's the fourth one today," said Monte Moore, as a woman scrambled over the sandbags piled at his front step to offer her company's refrigerator magnet.

Local politicians also waded through. Seal Beach Mayor Marilyn Bruce Hastings stopped by in the late morning as the early flood tide was receding. After she left, Betty Moore said: "You can bet your sweet bippy I'll never campaign for her again. For eight years, she's been promising us new sand; where's the sand?"

Hastings said she has tried unsuccessfully for years to secure state and federal funding that would pay for more sand.

Old hands who have watched decades' worth of tropical and winter storms, the family spent hours reassuring each other that the evening's high tide wouldn't be so bad. The weather channel was on in the living room all day, but they spent more time watching the skies out front.

"There's no wind, there's no full moon and there's no cloud break," said Scott Dekraai, rattling off warning signs from previous devastating storms. Cloud break is a term used by many locals to refer to a rolling white wall of waves that appear out at sea just past the breakwater, which is an indicator of the disastrous surf to come.

The 1983 storm that destroyed the Seal Beach Municipal Pier left nearly five feet of sand in the Moore's living room. Scott, 12 at the time, carried his great-grandmother, who had been asleep during the excitement, out back to waiting rescuers.

"The alley was like a rushing river," he recalled. His grandmother remembered being knocked over as she tried to chase the boy's toys down the alley.

The Moore's first-floor home was destroyed by that storm.

"We lost everything," Betty Moore said. "We spent $40,000 to fix it."

By 4 p.m. Thursday, there was still no cloud break, but no one was taking chances. American Red Cross personnel set up an evacuation site, just in case, at a nearby community center. Weary, wet firefighters continued to fill and pile sandbags to line inside alleys and prop against leaky doors.

"You bet I'm worried. The power of nature is unbelievable," Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Jerry Galati said. "We can sandbag until we're blue in the face and the ocean could still take it all."

Next door to the Moores, Jeff Ashmead swept up sand and debris left on his mother's sidewalk by the morning's flood. Ashmead flew down from his San Jose home on the first flight he could catch Thursday morning after his wife phoned with news of the flood. By mid-afternoon he had lumber braces laid out in front of his mother's wide, plate glass windows, ready for a carpenter to nail up tall pieces of plywood. His mother is vacationing in France.

"She already moved all the antiques before she left. She knew about El Nino," Ashmead said. "I wouldn't dare tell her about this. There's no point. Why ruin a good vacation?"

Since 1983, the Moores and many others have acquired flood insurance, replaced old-fashioned garage doors with roll-up doors that will operate even if they are partially under water and, most importantly, built retaining walls in front of their houses.

"We had big storms in 1987 and 1988, and all that happened was the waves came over the retaining wall and got Grandma's little flower garden wet," Dekraai said.

Still, he and five neighbors spent nearly four hours early Thursday filling sandbags on the soggy beach out front and lugging them through flood waters to pile against the Moores' front porch and back door.

"That's the beautiful thing around here. Whenever something like this happens, it's all hands to the rescue," said Monte Moore.

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