Santa Cruz Wharf evacuated, portions of West Cliff Drive closed as storm batters Central California coast

Portions of West Cliff Drive were closed because of dangerous conditions and damage from this week's storm.
(Hillary Ojeda / Lookout Santa Cruz )

Police and firefighters closed and evacuated the Santa Cruz Wharf on Thursday as high waves that followed behind Wednesday’s atmospheric river threatened public safety. In Santa Cruz, West Cliff Drive between Pelton and Almar was closed as waves washed over the area, sending large rocks onto the roadway.

Around 9 a.m., Santa Cruz Police and Fire made the decision to evacuate and close the Santa Cruz Wharf as ocean conditions threatened public safety.

Wharf crewmembers, police and fire personnel are the only people allowed to remain.

Portions of West Cliff Drive were closed on Thursday for dangerous ocean conditions.
(Hillary Ojeda/Lookout Santa Cruz)

“A couple of our sprinkler lines are broken, which causes our fire alarms to constantly go off and send incorrect alerts,” said Wharf Recreation Coordinator Annalise Bryant. “We also had about 20-foot waves reaching the top decks, so it’s all about keeping the public safe and being as proactive as we can be.”

Wharf Supervisor Britt Hoberg added that there is a significant amount of debris in the water as well, which, when combined with large waves, only increases the threat to public safety.

Bryant said that the wharf would be closed until at least 4 p.m., at which point wharf and emergency personnel will reassess.

It is the first time that the wharf has closed since about a year ago, when the Tonga volcanic eruption caused a tsunami last January.

Storm Central keeps you updated as we watch, wait and assess. Check back here as Lookout correspondents reach out across...

West Cliff Drive on Thursday, January 5, 2023.
(Hillary Ojeda/Lookout Santa Cruz)

West Cliff Drive — a stretch of iconic road already under duress — didn’t escape storm effects either, as a sizable stretch of the scenic road between Pelton and Almar was closed around the same time. The closure is due to large waves crashing into the cliffs, causing a deluge of seawater to partially flood the road.

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According to City of Santa Cruz Communications Manager Erika Smart, police, fire and public works personnel are on scene assessing the damage and planning next steps.

There is currently no timetable for reopening.

Some reports on social media suggested emergency personnel were investigating whether someone was washed into the San Lorenzo River.

Smart confirmed that around 10:10 p.m. on Wednesday, Santa Cruz police, fire, two city lifeguards and the Ben Lomond Swift Water Team responded to reports of someone calling for help near the San Lorenzo River behind the Tannery Arts Center. The Coast Guard was called in, too.

Per Smart, the teams searched for two hours, but did not find anyone.

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