Sunday, February 24, 2008

Three injured as heavy surf rocks Santa Barbara


Authorities evacuated Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf on Sunday afternoon after a massive wave smashed through a metal railing and swept three people into the water.
Dozens of people had been walking along the breakwater at the harbor, getting a close-up look at the pounding surf brought on by a large westerly swell. But the colossal wall of water that pounded across the pathway caught many by surprise, witnesses said.

Robert Taylor, out filming the heavy breakers, said he saw the rogue wave coming toward him and made a dash for it. When he turned around, he heard people yelling for help and spotted several people in the water.
“It was shocking to me to see that the wave had busted the railing,” he said. “That wave had to have a lot of force. … If they weren’t seriously hurt, that’s miraculous.”
The victims were slammed through the metal railing, across the large rocks of the breakwater and into the harbor. Surfers jumped in immediately to pull the victims from the water, Taylor said, and emergency crews arrived quickly.
“We knew that the surf was going to be picking up, so we’ve been keeping a few units close by,” City Fire Battalion Chief Andrew DiMizio said.
Three people suffered moderate injuries in the incident, he said, including a broken ankle, bruises and potential internal injuries. One person was transported to the hospital by ambulance. Harbor Patrol divers remained in the water for at least an hour, searching for any others who might have been knocked over by the wave.
A section of heavy metal railing remained splayed across the rocks of the breakwater as crews carefully evacuated the breakwater. Yellow caution tape stretched across the opening whipped in the strong winds as waves thundered nearby.
“It’s a dangerous situation and we’re asking people to stay off the wharf and out of the harbor,” DiMizio said.
The swell was expected to peak at 11 p.m. Sunday evening, authorities said. Surf forecasts called for waves from six to 10 feet with occasional 14-foot surges, according to
Seawater had started spraying up through deck planks on Stearns Wharf by 4 p.m. when authorities closed it to vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Workers quickly secured a sewer system on the wharf that had been damaged by waves, waterfront officials said in a press release, and will likely repair it on Monday.
Harbor Patrol officers also rescued about 20 surfers, none of whom suffered significant injuries. DiMizio said big surf brings out big crowds and that’s when accidents such as people being swept off the breakwater occur.
“I’ve seen it happen three or four times in my career, when the surf picks up.”

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