A powerful offshore storm is pushing towering waves onto the California coast, triggering flooding and warnings of dangerous and destructive swells. after several people were injured by a wave along Ventura Beach on Thursday.
The wave crashed over a barrier along the Southern California beach, sending a wall of fast-moving water toward a group of spectators who rushed to escape the deluge, witness video shows. The seawater quickly knocked some people off their feet and hit cars as drivers tried to flee at speed.
Nearly 20 people were briefly swept away during the incident and eight people were taken to hospitals, Ventura officials said.
Dangerous high water and rip currents will occur along some California beaches over the weekend as much of the West Coast – stretching from the US-Mexico border to southern Oregon – is subject to coastal flooding and high surf warnings, the National Weather Service said.
Waves as high as telephone poles – around 40 feet – could crash into San Francisco through Friday morning. Fifteen to twenty foot waves are expected along the Central Coast.
The hazardous conditions pose an “exceptional risk” of drowning in the ocean and damage to structures such as piers and jetties, the National Weather Service said.
The spectacular waters have captivated some surfers and spectators, but weather officials warn that waves and strong tides can be dangerous for people nearby.
“Large breaking waves can cause injuries, wash people off beaches and rocks, and capsize small boats near shore,” the National Weather Service warned.
At least one fisherman fell overboard in a harbor off Oxnard and later returned to land unharmed, Ventura County firefighters said.
The conditions have already caused road closures and evacuations in California’s coastal communities and led to the rescue of five campers along the San Luis Obispo coast.
Ventura crews worked through the night to reinforce a mile-long sand barrier that was damaged by powerful waters Thursday, local firefighters said. Standing approximately seven feet high, the raised wall helps protect riverside communities.
Hoping to discourage spectators, local officials closed a main access point to Ventura Pier, which saw swells of about 20 feet Thursday. Some coastal streets in the area were also closed as a precaution.
In Santa Cruz, Central California, the sheriff’s office issued an evacuation warning Thursday for some areas, including areas of Rio Del Mar, where seawater has filled beachfront roads and pushed against some homes, CNN affiliate KION reported. The warnings were lifted later in the day.
The most extreme impacts were expected along the central coasts and Ventura County, as well as the beaches of Hermosa, Manhattan and Palos Verdes, the Los Angeles Weather Service said Thursday.
Stormy waters are also hitting Northern California, where the Bay Area could see waves of 28 to 33 feet, the weather service advised.
A high wind warning is also in effect Friday in the Bay Area, as wind gusts of up to 50 mph are expected.
Precipitation is expected to extend northward from the Bay Area throughout the day Friday before moving southward through the weekend.
Despite safety warnings, the massive waves are a welcome sight for surfers eager to take on the legendary waves at Mavericks Beach, about 25 miles south of San Francisco.
Professional surfers and spectators gathered on the beach Thursday for a competition at the site known for being home to some of the world’s biggest waves, CNN affiliate KGO reported.
Local resident Ion Banner told the affiliate that surfers from Brazil, Tahiti and Hawaii were in the water. “It’s pretty terrible, it’s super big,” he said.
“The waves looked absolutely huge and it was everything we expected,” said Miguel Blanco, who told KGO he came from Portugal to ride the waves. “It was really big, I would say 40 to 60 foot waves.”
The Mavericks’ breathtaking waves – caused by unique underwater rock formations – reach their highest peaks in winter, when big wave surfers from around the world make pilgrimages to ride the swells.
The legendary waves and the surfers who ride them have been the subject of several films and documentaries, including the 2012 biopic “Chasing Mavericks” about American surfer Jay Moriarity’s journey to surfing the Mavericks as a teenager.
On Thursday, conditions were ideal for surfers like Blanco.
“If it’s your turn, you have to go,” Blanco said. “When you see a big wave, you’re a little scared but at the same time you feel like you should go for it and you’re just going to enjoy the ride.”
CNN’s David Williams contributed to this report.
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