Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"El Niño 1983 Redux", by Bill Asturias

"County Recurrent" is pleased to publish yet another gem from that Big Bad El Niño Storm of March 1983. This story just flew in via the internet all the way from Guatemala where its author is in retirement with his wife and family. And so without further adieu, we are very pleased to present to you:

"El Niño 1983 Redux", by LACo S.O.L./Lt. Bill Asturias, Ret.

"27 years ago I witnessed the destruction of more than half of the Santa Monica Pier due to several storms caused by "el niño". I forget the exact day but it was the day after the retirement dinner of Capt. McFarland in Hermosa Beach. Why do I remember, you may ask? Because on my way back from the South Bay to my home in the San Fernando Valley I was stopped by the El Segundo Police Department and was awarded a free night at their local jail for driving under the influence caused by the many beers consumed at the retirement party.

I was released early the next morning and was picked up by retired Sr. Ocean Lifeguard Bob Chavez with a cup of coffee and big smile on his face. He drove me to my vehicle and I then drove to Santa Monica for my 8-4 shift at S.M.N. We were amazed at the size of the surf, easily a consistent 12 to 15 foot with some sets bigger than that.

When I arrived at Santa Monica, I could see that the waves were breaking well beyond the breakwater
that protected the pier and many were reaching the parking lots as the tide was coming in. The beach was underwater on both sides of the pier and it was impossible to drive on the sand. A good size crowd had gone to the pier to look at this amazing sight of the waves breaking 200 to 300 yards in front of the breakwater. A second man was hired to ride with me and prevent anybody from going beyond the first half of the pier. That man was none other than Ron Brown (R.I.P.), a great veteran and an amazing water man. Ron's first comment to me was that it was the Biggest Surf he had ever seen in Santa Monica. Upon hearing that, I was immediately worried since he had been "around".

We noticed several waves breaking on top of the Harbor Patrol Office at the end of the pier and saw some people trying to get equipment out of the office.

I remember that several pilings had come off the pier and there was all kinds of lumber crashing against the rest of the pilings closer to the beach. All of a sudden Ron yelled at me to look up at the set of waves approaching...they were huge and it seemed as they kept getting bigger as they came closer to the pier. The breakwater was practically nonexistent as the waves kept coming in and all were breaking in front of the end of the pier. Then we saw the harbor patrolman running as one of the waves lifted the end of the pier and as it came down another huge wave broke on top of it. As soon as that happened the whole 1/3 of the end of the pier was gone with Mother Nature taking the Harbor Office and our Lifeguard Dept's Boat Station with all of the personal belongings of Lt. Tom Zahn (R.I.P.) with it.

We found a very pale Harbor Patrolman still running towards us but we managed to calm him down.

It took several weeks to clear all the debris from Santa Monica beach, with Lt. Zahn spending many days looking for his belongings among the piles and piles of wood.

Ron and I had a witnessed the awesome power of "El Niño"."

Hasta la vista,

Bill Asturias,
Jan. 19, 2010.


Many Thanks to Bill for sharing his recollection of the Destructive Power of Mother Nature during the El Niño storm of March 1983.

*** Special Photo Sequence, Courtesy of Nick Steers, showing the damage to the Santa Monica Pier, the morning after the above-referenced El Nino storm damage in March 1983. ***

*** Many Thanks to Nick Steers for his contribution this evening of these amazing photos. Used here with permission. ***

Until next time.....

Will Maguire, Editor
"County Recurrent" News

Service • Training • Commitment

*** Keeping the County Recurrent "in the loop"..... whether he/she likes it or NOT ! ***

County Recurrent is not affiliated with nor sponsored by LACOLA or LACoFD.

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1 comment:

William Maguire said...

From LACo Recurrent Lifeguard, Terry Flanagan, Ret.: "I was a full time recurrent that year. Bob Ingersoll and I were hired to walk through the Venice parking lot. The water was waist deep and we were looking (with our feet) for dive equipment from the destroyed harbor office on the SM pier. We stumbled across several air tanks that had washed down as well as an assortment of dead animals, tree trunks, and other flotsam. All the sand was washed away around the Venice HQ and several feet of pilings for the building were exposed. Pretty wild."