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Santa Cruz storm damage includes collapsed pier, pummeled boardwalks

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An atmospheric river came ashore and unleashed colossal waves on the California coast Thursday, with Santa Cruz County, south of the San Francisco Bay area, among the hardest-hit regions.

Vibrant boardwalks full of eateries and vintage rides were thrashed by the high tide and large surf. Sandy beaches and rocky coves were submerged as rushing water dragged ocean debris past the shoreline and onto major roads.

Santa Cruz residents shared videos of the region’s beloved Capitola Wharf pier split in half by the 25-foot crashing waves. A few miles south at Seacliff Beach, the area’s iconic concrete SS Palo Alto World War I tanker, locally known as the “cement ship,” broke away from the shore and was beaten by waves.

“The storm has caused significant damage throughout the county and along the coast, including heavy damage to piers in Capitola and Seacliff. High tide and large surf is a dangerous combination — avoid the coast,” officials wrote on Santa Cruz County’s Twitter feed Thursday.

The National Weather Service issued a coastal flood warning that was in effect until 4 p.m. Thursday for California’s entire coastline. A high-surf advisory, which warned of large, breaking waves 15 to 20 feet high, is in effect until Friday evening.

Nearly 10,000 residents in Santa Cruz woke up Friday without electricity because of downed power lines, according to data from Poweroutage.us. More than 73,000 homes and businesses across the state were in the dark in the early morning.

Vulnerable low-lying homes and businesses on the coast faced the full brunt of the waves as water reaching as high as some overpass bridges rolled through. One home was pushed off its foundation, according to reports from Santa Cruz County. Other homes directly on Santa Cruz’s shores had “no protection” from the high tides, Melodye Serino, deputy county administrative officer for Santa Cruz, told The Washington Post.

The storm triggered evacuation orders Wednesday night for residents living closest to the beaches.

“We just live in a very fragile, vulnerable geographic area between the ocean and the mountains and what’s happening with climate change,” Serino said. “We’re heavily impacted.”

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Santa Cruz remains under a flood watch as “multiple rounds of widespread rainfall” are expected throughout the weekend, according to the Weather Service.

As Santa Cruz residents start to pick up the pieces, officials are warning them to be prepared for emergencies, power outages and high water and the need to evacuate on short notice after another potential round of flooding.

Atmospheric rivers have been causing chaos along California’s coast since Dec. 26. Storm fronts are typical during the winter season, but this trail of storms is different. They are tapping into moisture from the tropics that is combining with the normal yearly storm systems, bringing more rain than California usually sees, Brooke Bingaman, a meteorologist at the Weather Service office in the Bay Area, told The Post.

“In this scenario, we’re just getting storm, after storm, after storm, with no really good dry breaks in between. And that’s why there is such elevated concern and increasing impact,” Bingaman said.

Forecasters are predicting three more waves of storms by the end of next week.

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“This pattern is expected to continue throughout week 1 (January 6-12) and is likely during week 2 (January 13-19), as several more impactful atmospheric river events are expected,” the Weather Service wrote in a Thursday update.

The total damage from this week’s surge is not yet known, but officials anticipate that it will take several years to recover.

“This is a five-year plan for recovery,” Serino said.

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