Oil spill beats to ‘heartbeat’ of California beach community


Lifeguards close the beach after an oil spill in Huntington Beach, Calif. On Sunday, October 3, 2021. The closure extended from the Huntington Beach Pier nearly 6.4 kilometers south of the Santa Ana River Pier . Yellow warning tape was threaded between the lifeguard towers to keep people away. (AP Photo / Ringo HW Chiu)

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) – Most days of the week David Perry heads to the beach to surf. But on Sunday, he sat down with his skateboard admiring stunning views of the ocean as a jazz band played, families rode bikes, and crews tried to keep sick crude oil from reaching the California coast.

Offshore oil rigs are still visible from the community known as “Surf City USA,” and on most days is seen as another danger for those who venture out with their boards, the man said. 35 years. Now the massive spill threatens to keep the ocean out of reach for weeks or months, harm marine life, and shut down the waterfront activities that are the lifeblood of Huntington Beach, in southern California.

“Surfing is the heart of the community,” said Perry, adding that he had moved for a few months and wanted to return to the community, where he often meets top surfers on the waves and finds most residents engaged in active activity. lifestyle through surfing, skateboarding, cycling or other outdoor exercise. “There’s something about Huntington Beach’s heartbeat that it has a very unique heartbeat.”

The Orange County town of 200,000 people is known for its scenic coastline and hosts many events each year that draw many more people to its shores. Surf shops selling boards and gear line the downtown streets, along with bars and restaurants. On the beach, the bike path attracts riders and on a typical day, people walk the pier and watch the surfers in their wetsuits, dance in the waves.

From late Friday or early Saturday, boaters began to report an oily luster in the water. At least 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of crude oil spilled from a now closed pipeline into waters off Orange County, officials said.

This prompted Huntington Beach officials to shut the beach down. Authorities used loudspeakers to tell visitors to stay out of the water on Sunday and a yellow warning tape was stretched between the lifeguard towers.

Some people still went out to sit on lawn chairs and play beach volleyball, but not the typical crowds on sunny October days. Some had traveled to attend the Pacific Air Show, which drew 1.5 million people on Saturday, but officials canceled the third day of the event as oil began to run aground on the coast and thick smell permeated the air.

Maxwell Owachgiu, who lives in the interior community of Diamond Bar about 40 miles away, decided to come with his family despite the spill, believing he had only landed further south. But he found himself with oily residue stuck to his feet after wading through the water, and told his wife that their two young daughters should not enter.

Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr has said the ocean could be closed for weeks or months, but it’s too early to know.

Lesa O’Shea, a 63-year-old nurse from the city, said she took a photo of the smelly oil stains in the ocean and was dismayed to see children playing in the water nearby . She said she comes to the beach at least once a week from her home a few miles away to cycle, walk or, if it’s warm enough, swim.

“It’s a beach lifestyle,” O’Shea said, taking a bite at an outdoor restaurant. “So of course people are riding bikes, walking on the beach, surfing, swimming, lying in the sun, and now you can’t do any of that over there with the oil spill.”

Before returning home, O’Shea said she planned to stop by the store to purchase supplies to donate to a local wildlife center that cares for injured and sick birds.

Carr, whose husband surfs and daughter participates in a junior lifeguard program, said the beach was one of the main reasons her family lived in the community. Seeing the environmental impact of the spill, with oil-covered fish and birds washed up on shore, was devastating, she said.

“There will be a significant impact on our community, but I also know that we will bounce back,” she said.

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