Massive California waves injure onlookers and bring flooding, treacherous beach conditions up the West coast

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CNN  — 

A powerful offshore storm is driving towering waves into the California coastline, triggering flooding and urgent warnings from officials of swells that could damage piers and boats and threaten onlookers, after several people were injured by a wave along Ventura beach on Thursday.

Nearly 20 people were swept away by a wave that crashed into onlookers standing behind a barrier along the southern California beach, and eight people were taken to the hospital, Ventura officials said.

Some parts of the California coast will see high water and dangerous rip currents through the weekend as the large waves keep rolling in. Coastal flood and high-surf alerts cover much of the West coast from the US-Mexico border to southern Oregon on Friday, the National Weather Service said.

San Francisco could see waves as high as telephone poles — up to 40 feet — through Friday morning. Fifteen to 20-foot waves are expected in the central coast.

The dangerous conditions pose an “exceptional risk” of ocean drowning and damage to structures like piers and jetties, the National Weather Service said.

The spectacular waters have enthralled some surfers and onlookers, but weather officials are cautioning that the waves and strong rip tides can be perilous for those nearby.

“Large breaking waves can cause injury, 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 came ashore uninjured, the Ventura County Fire Department said.

The conditions have already caused some road closures and evacuations in coastal California communities and prompted the rescue of five campers along the San Luis Obispo coast.

Some coastal streets in Ventura have been closed as a precaution. In order to discourage spectators, officials also closed a main access point to Ventura Pier, which saw a swell of about 20 feet on Thursday.

In central California’s Santa Cruz, the sheriff’s office issued an evacuation warning for some areas on Thursday, which included areas of Rio Del Mar, where seawater filled beachside roadways 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 and Ventura County coasts, along with Hermosa, Manhattan and Palos Verdes beaches, the weather service in Los Angeles said Thursday.

But Northern California will not be spared.

The Bay Area is under a high wind alert Friday and could see gusts of up to 50 mph. The weather service warned Thursday that the area could see waves of 28 to 33 feet.

Rain is also expected to fall on the Bay Area and areas north of it throughout the day Friday before spreading south on Saturday.

Storm debris in the Rio Del Mar neighborhood of Aptos, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Nic Coury)

Massive waves attract surfers to Mavericks

Despite safety warnings, the massive waves are a welcome sight to surfers hungry to tackle the legendary swells at Mavericks Beach, about 25 miles south of San Francisco.

Pro surfers and spectators flocked to the beach on Thursday for a competition known for having some of the biggest waves in the world, CNN affiliate KGO reported.

Local resident Ion Banner told the affiliate that surfers from Brazil, Tahiti and Hawaii were out in the water. “It’s pretty gnarly, it’s super big,” he said.

“The waves looked absolutely massive and it was everything that we expected,” said Miguel Blanco, who told KGO he flew in from Portugal to surf the waves. “It was really big, I’d say 40-60 foot waves.”

“If it’s your turn, you just gotta go,” Blanco said. “When you see a big wave, you’re kinda scared but at the same time you’re feeling like you should go and you just go and enjoy the ride.”

CNN’s David Williams contributed to this report.

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Massive California waves injure onlookers and bring flooding, treacherous beach conditions up the West coast

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