Powerful waves as high as 20 feet gave Southern California beaches a beating Friday, forcing the closure of landmark piers, flooding coastal homes and strewing impassable debris along Pacific Coast Highway in Ventura County.
Hard hit was Capistrano Shores, a north San Clemente enclave of 90 mobile homes and cottages built on the sand. The community was besieged by giant billows that crashed through storm shutters and picture windows before the 10:13 a.m. high tide.
Meteorologists said the high waves were generated by a series of recent storms in the Pacific Ocean, including one that was expected to hit shore late Friday night and bring rain to the Los Angeles area throughout today.
"This has been the most water we've had here in seven years," Capistrano Shores manager Tony Louch said as waves exploded off a new, 600-ton rock revetment installed in November in anticipation of El Nino.
Despite the bulwark, 42 of the community's homes were damaged--10 of them severely--as the ocean crashed through front windows.
The home of Tom Johnson, 75, was savaged more than once this week.
On Monday, waves broke three top transom windows and poured onto the living room floor, damaging his carpet, television and VCR. On Thursday, the water swept away a tall glass wind screen.
By Friday, Johnson had put plywood panels over his windows--and crossed his fingers.
In Seal Beach, on Orange County's north coast, roaring surf forced the indefinite closure of the pier and threatened a protective berm. Despite some breaches, the sand line held--with the help of three bulldozers run by city crews.
"We're lucky we got the berm up as high as we did," said Police Capt. Gary Maiten. The pier will reopen only after structural engineers can assess its safety.
Whitecaps forced the closure of the Aliso and San Clemente piers early Friday. The Aliso Pier later reopened, but portions of the San Clemente Pier remained closed Friday afternoon.
In Los Angeles County there was havoc as well.
Spectators were evacuated from piers in Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach, but no homes in those areas were threatened.
Such was not the case in Ventura County, where the fury was on full display. The surf damaged a dozen homes, flooded streets and battered the landmark Ventura Pier.
Still, county residents felt that they had dodged a bullet, at least for now. Fifteen-foot tidal swells were expected to reappear this morning with a storm that could drop an inch of rain onto saturated hillsides.
"I would say we were threatened, then spared, by Mother Nature," said county Fire Department spokeswoman Sandi Wells as cleanup crews bulldozed rubble from around two damaged houses at Faria Beach.
A five-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, between the State Beach and Seacliff exits, remained closed Friday evening, the sand littered with rocks the size of beach balls.
Local officials closed the Ventura Pier for the weekend after the 126-year-old structure took the blows of 18- to 20-foot waves Friday morning. A just-completed $600,000 bracing and piling replacement job was credited with limiting Friday's damage to an estimated $20,000.
Times staff writer Chris Chi and correspondent Julia Scheeres contributed to this story.