.30 Foot Waves Flooded Coastal Areas, Prompts Evacuations

Coastal areas countywide affected

This is a developing story, last updated: 2:30 p.m.

Early Thursday morning, 30 foot waves flooded coastal areas across the county, prompting evacuations and road closures. The extreme wave height, compounded with high tide—which peaked at around 11 a.m.—caused areas in Aptos, Capitola and Santa Cruz to evacuate and assess damage. 

The flooding comes almost exactly a year after disastrous storms caused millions in damage to the Capitola Village and other areas of the county. 

In Capitola, the Esplanade was taped off after waves carried debris into the parking lot and flooded the area in front of the restaurants that line the coast. Structural damage was minimal according to Capitola Police Sergeant Scott Newton, who was standing in front of the taped off area to oversee Capitola City Works and manage pedestrian questions. 

“Right now, damage to businesses is minimal and not causing structural issues,” Newton said. “Hopefully, we will reopen shortly. But right now this is nothing compared to the beginning of the year.” 

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With high tide peaking around 11 a.m. Newton expected to reopen businesses by early afternoon, after Capitola City Works cleared debris and gutters. 

Mary Ann Orr, who owns the popular restaurant, Margaritaville on the Capitola Esplanade, stood by Thursday morning with a crowd as waves pummeled the shop fronts where Soquel Creek meets the sea.

“It was worse last year in the floods,” she said. “But this is really bad. This looks like the second worst. We’ll definitely be closed for several days to clean up. The waves crashed through a door at my restaurant. We’re trying to get some lumber in here now to protect what we can.”

Swarms of people clung to the edge of the Stockton Bridge in Capitola to watch the wave surges bash into the Esplanade businesses and the historic Venetian homes across Soquel Creek.

Just a few miles south at Rio Del Mar State Beach, persistent heavy surf hauled tons of sands, seaweed and driftwood far into the Esplanade area and along numerous streets. The California Highway Patrol joined forces with Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies in closing that area off to traffic and clearing swarms of onlookers from harm’s way.

“We’ve closed off areas of Rio Del Mar, Seacliff and East Cliff Drive,” said Ashley Keehn of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. “Earlier, deputies had to rescue a woman trapped in her car along Beach Drive here in Rio Del Mar.”

Jennifer Welling, a resident of Rio Del Mar, said she came to the Espande to walk her dog, Halle, and was stunned by what she saw.

“It’s a mess but we definitely had plenty of warning this time,” she said. “Not like last year at this time. I’ve been out here since 7:30 this morning and it just keeps coming. The waves are very powerful.”

While deputies kept traffic out of the Esplanade area, the high tide kept shoving waves of sea debris across the parking area, up against business fronts and into surrounding streets.

Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf was evacuated at 9 a.m. Thursday morning after large waves damaged pilings and broke a water main towards the end of the wharf. Access to the wharf was closed, and at 10 a.m. Santa Cruz Fire Department and Santa Cruz Police Department personnel were on standby to monitor the situation.

“We’ve been monitoring the conditions all morning as the tide’s coming up and the swell is very large, and seeing if there’s any damage to the structure down,” said Santa Cruz Fire Captain Brian Thomas. 

“We made the call to close the wharf down once it sustained multiple broken pilings down towards the end underneath a business [that also damaged] its water main and sprinkler system,” he said.

Santa Cruz City communications manager Erika Smart confirmed that there was a ruptured line on the fire sprinkler system that connects to various businesses on the wharf.

“The good news is that it was fire sprinkler loop so there is not a water main break,” Smart said 

“We know that there is going to be some damage on the wharf. At this time, the water is way too high for us to be able to assess any damages to the wharf, but in the next couple days we’ll have more information,” she said.

About 40 spectators gathered around near the wharf entrance to watch the swelling waves crashing over the wharf’s west walkway. 

Thomas stressed that onlookers should exercise caution.

“Stay away from the edges, observe from a safe distance. Please don’t go in the ocean today. Don’t put yourself at risk and rescuers at risk,” Thomas said.

Smart said that personnel from Santa Cruz Police Department, Santa Cruz Fire, Parks and Recreation and Public Works are in the field today to help as needed. She urged residents to stay away from the coastline.

“Those big waves are crashing over onto the road and they’re throwing debris onto the road, this includes big rocks and big logs, and things that could hurt people,” Smart said. “So we do really just want to urge people to stay indoors and stay away from the coastline if you are outside.”

Currently there is no timeline for when the wharf will reopen to the public.

“At this time, we’re unsure when the wharf will reopen. But we will of course be working really quickly to assess any damage and open as soon as it is safe to,” Smart said.

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