Three people died after a beachside cliff collapsed in Encinitas, California on Friday, August 2. The victims have been identified as Anne Clave, 35, her mother, Julie Davis, 65 and Clave’s aunt, Elizabeth Cox. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported the family was holding a beachside party to celebrate Cox’s recovery from breast cancer.
According to Encinitas Fire Chief Mike Stein, five people were pulled from the rubble. A woman was pronounced dead at the scene while three other victims were transported to a local hospital. A fifth person was treated at the beach. All of the victims were adults.
“The City has confirmed that two of the three victims that were transported to local area hospitals earlier today have succumbed to their injuries. This brings the total fatalities from this incident to three. Beachgoers should continue to use caution when visiting beach areas,” the City of Encinitas tweeted.
One witness to the accident told KSWB he saw about a dozen adults and children below the bluff in what may have been a family gathering. Surfboards, beach chairs, and towels could be seen strewn nearby.
The incident occurred on at 2:55 p.m. PT. The cliff was located at 1700 Neptune Avenue, north of Grandview Beach staircase, near South Ponto State Beach. Encinitas Lifeguard Captain Larry Giles said the section of cliff that gave way was approximately 30 by 25 feet.
“We are devastated by the tragedy today and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We stand ready to help in any way possible. Our engineers and the public safety team are diligently working to assess bluff conditions.” Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear said in a public statement.
Grandview is a Popular Surfing Spot
The area around Grandview is a popular location for surfers. One surfing website describes Grandview as “a true wave magnet,” adding, “It picks up just about anything that the great blue Pacific has to offer.”
The Encinitas Chamber of Commerce described Grandview is part of the California State Park system and is Encinitas’ northernmost beach. The beach is operated by the City of Encinitas.
Helicopters Were Asked to Fly Higher to Prevent More of the Bluff From Falling
During the rescue effort, news helicopters were asked to fly at a higher altitude due to vibrations from the aircraft making the scene potentially more dangerous for first responders. “The vibrations of your aircraft are affecting safety operations for first responders and could cause further instability at the scene,” San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore tweeted.
Immediately after the accident, lifeguards and emergency crews were working to dig victims out from the sand and rubble. Search and rescue dogs were brought to the area to assist. An incoming tide made rescue efforts more problematic.
A Previous Bluff Failure Killed One Woman in 2000
In 2000, a cliff collapsed at Encnitas’Beacon’s Beach resulting in a landslide that killed Rebecca Kowalczyk,30, who was watching her husband surf. Kowalski was sitting alone when the cliff gave way.
In 2011, a bluff collapsed on the 1700 block of Neptune Ave. In 2010, a cliff approximately one block away from today’s bluff failure gave way, threatening a retaining wall and creating a danger for beachgoers. No injuries were reported in with either incident.
The city’s website warns that bluff failures may occur due to Encinitas’ unique sandstone bluffs “Please be aware that in most areas hiking near or directly on top of the bluffs is prohibited. It is also important for visitors to avoid standing or sitting directly underneath unstable bluffs, since they may collapse,” it says. Signs along the beach advise visitors to stay at least 40 feet away from the cliffs.
According to the city’s Emergency Preparedness website, the 1982-1983 El Niño storms stripped the cliffs of vertical sand up to 20 feet deep, “putting the coastal bluffs and homes in jeopardy of collapsing into the sea.”