SAN CLEMENTE — A storm in the central Pacific generated 10- to 15-foot waves Friday that pounded Orange County's coastline at high tide, spraying water above oceanfront rooftops in Capistrano Shores, forcing temporary closure of Seal Beach, Aliso and San Clemente piers while bulldozers raced to fortify a sand berm protecting Seal Beach homes.
The powerful ocean swells that hit Hawaii two days earlier and generated 50-foot waves on the North Shore were expected to subside today as a rainstorm moves in, but there will be 6- to 10-foot breakers on beaches and dangerous surf conditions.
With the ocean's fury on full display, there was hardly any area of the Southern California coast that escaped the wrath of the El Nino-influenced swells. San Diego reported 15-foot waves and issued warnings to stay off the beach, while in Ventura County, 18- to 20-foot breakers damaged a dozen homes, flooded streets and battered the landmark Ventura Pier, which was closed for the weekend.
"We warned our residents about a week ago to expect the big waves, so most people put up shutters, filled sandbags and got ready," said Grant Larson, community services director for the Del Mar Lifeguard Service.
Old Highway 101 was temporarily closed near Encinitas on Friday because of 10-foot-high waves hitting sea cliffs, battering beach-front buildings and flooding low areas. The closure was the fourth this week.
Today's rainstorm is expected to dump 1 inch to 1 1/2 inches of rain and as much as 2 to 3 inches in the foothills and mountains as the second of three storms strikes the county, said Bill Reiter, county flood control director. The third storm is due Monday.
With the high surf and tides subsiding, the threat of additional coastal problems may be minimized, but Reiter cautioned that one can never be sure with the weather.
"With rain added to the mix, we could probably see more problems get even greater,' Reiter said.
At Capistrano Shores, a north San Clemente enclave of 90 mobile homes and cottages built on the sand, severe flooding occurred after giant waves began crashing through storm shutters and picture windows of several homes an hour before the 10:13 a.m. high tide.
"This has been the most water we've had here in seven years," manager Tony Louch said as wave after wave exploded off a new, 600-ton rock revetment installed in November to protect homes as part of the community's El Nino preparation.
"These rocks really helped a lot," resident Barbara Lundberg shouted. "When we woke up this morning, it was to a roar as the waves crashed against our front window, shaking and rattling it. We had to get it boarded up quickly."
Though Lundberg's home was spared, waves caused severe damage inside the home of Tom Johnson, 75. On Monday, waves battered Johnson's home before breaking three top transom windows, allowing sea water to flood the living room and damage carpeting, a television and VCR. On Thursday, waves took out a 5-foot-tall glass wind screen.
On Friday, Johnson spent the morning crossing his fingers as breakers continuously broke just a few feet in front of his home, sending a wall of water over his roof and flooding his patio.
"I had my storm shutters up, but the waves damaged them. I had to put up half-inch plywood panels on my windows with 2-by-4 reinforcements," he said.
Louch said that of 90 homes, 32 suffered minor damage and 10 had more serious damage from waves crashing through front windows. A damage total could not immediately be obtained.
Johnson and other homeowners said an eroded beach added to the problem.
Resident Neil Olsen, whose large picture window on his home was shattered by the ocean's intensity, said that when he first bought his residence in 1978, "you could step from my back door to the sand. Now, it's more than an 11-foot drop."
Residents voiced concern that today's waves may again be large and could combine with rain runoff to cause additional damage.
Emergency officials were kept busy with high tide damage such as flooding in parking lots at Capistrano Beach and Aliso Beach parks, which were temporarily closed while workers mopped up the water.
San Clemente, Aliso and Seal Beach piers were temporarily closed at high tide as a safety precaution. San Clemente's Pier, which lost wooden cross members, was partially reopened; Aliso Pier will remain closed through today. Seal Beach Pier will remain closed indefinitely until an assessment of its safety is made by structural engineers, lifeguards said.
In Seal Beach, hundreds of curious onlookers jammed the pier in the morning to watch the ocean's ferocity until the closure order was given. Meanwhile, city work crews employed three bulldozers during a midmorning battle against the rising tide to push sand back on a protective berm, which held despite some leaking.