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High Surf, Riptide Pull in a Crowd

July 26, 2002|MILTON CARRERO GALARZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The remnants of Hurricane Douglas were felt along the Newport Beach coast Thursday, bringing waves up to 12 feet and catching hundreds of swimmers in accompanying riptides, authorities said. Newport Beach Fire Department lifeguards rescued about 200 people. Among them was a man who suffered a fractured collarbone in the surf and a group of about 15 people struggling with the tide, said Capt. Eric Bauer.

"At least 200 lives were saved today," he said. "They all would have been [seriously injured] if the lifeguards were not there."

Lifeguards estimated that 80,000 people visited the Newport Beach shore Thursday, said Lt. Rob Williams. Many came to watch the surfers tackle the high surf, others to escape the heat inland. In preparation, the Fire Department increased the number of lifeguards and staffed additional towers.

More than 100 people gathered at the Wedge, a prime surfing site in Newport, to watch the swells. "This is the first good day of the summer," said bodysurfer Scott Corngold, 31, of Newport Beach. "Hurricane swells are among the best wave producers in this area."

While surfers rejoiced, lifeguards encouraged the public to be extra careful, because the big waves and riptides are expected to continue through the weekend.

"The surf is really dangerous," Williams said. "If you're not an expert swimmer or surfer, we recommend that you stay in shallow waters."

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