February 14, 2010 in Nation/World

Rogue waves inundate surf contest watchers

Paul Elias Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Bystanders scramble as a rogue wave washes over the beach during the Mavericks Surfing Contest on Saturday in Pillar Point, Calif.
(Full-size photo)

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. – Despite big wave warnings, two walls of water caught dozens of spectators off-guard and knocked them to a rocky beach as they watched a Northern California surfing contest Saturday, leaving some with broken bones but sparing them from being pulled into the ocean.

Thirteen people swept from a seawall had significant injuries, including broken legs and hands, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Battalion Chief Scott Jalbert. At least three of the injured were taken to hospitals.

Jalbert estimated “a couple hundred” people were on the seawall at the southern tip of Mavericks Beach when the waves struck, upstaging the surfing competition that draws some of the world’s top surfers.

The waves were 5 feet to 6 feet high by the time they hit – “small but strong,” he said.

“Nobody was swept away into the water. They were just swept onto the beach area pretty hard,” Jalbert said. “It’s pretty rocky.”

Additional firefighters had been on the way to clear the beach because of dangerous conditions but arrived too late, he said.

Only after the unexpected large waves swept in during high tide did the National Weather Service post a high surf warning until 10 p.m. Saturday. The agency previously posted a less severe high surf advisory.

“It’s a force of nature that can’t be predicted,” Jalbert said. “We were very lucky that nobody was swept out to sea.”

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