Search and rescue personnel work at the site of a cliff collapse at a popular beach in Encinitas, California. Picture: AP
Search and rescue personnel work at the site of a cliff collapse at a popular beach in Encinitas, California. Picture: AP

Family killed while celebrating cancer win

Three beachgoers who were killed when a Southern California sea cliff collapsed on them were taking part in a family gathering to celebrate one of them surviving breast cancer.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner says 35-year-old Anne Clave and her mother, 65-year-old Julie Davis, died at hospitals after the cliff collapse.

A family email obtained by KNSD-TV identified the third victim as Elizabeth Cox, Clave's aunt.

The email says the victims were part of a family gathering at Grandview Beach celebrating Cox's surviving breast cancer.

Two other people were hurt when tons of sandstone came tumbling down. Officials have since reported most of the popular Surf Beach, which had been closed after the collapse.

A nine-metre slab of the cliff plunged onto the sand near Grandview Beach.

A KNSD-TV helicopter captured footage of beach chairs, towels, surf boards and beach toys strewn about the sand.

A bouquet of flowers lies on some of the sand rock debris from the bluff collapse. Picture: AP
A bouquet of flowers lies on some of the sand rock debris from the bluff collapse. Picture: AP

 

 

The sandstone stab that fell was estimated to weigh over four tonnes. Picture: AP
The sandstone stab that fell was estimated to weigh over four tonnes. Picture: AP

Other beachgoers and lifeguards at a nearby tower scrambled to the towering pile of debris, which was estimated to weigh at least four tonnes, to help dig out victims.

"I saw first responders, and I saw lifeguards frantically digging people out of the debris," Jim Pepperdine, who lives nearby, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Lifeguards and search and rescue personnel work at the site of a cliff collapse at a popular beach in Encinitas, California. Picture: AP
Lifeguards and search and rescue personnel work at the site of a cliff collapse at a popular beach in Encinitas, California. Picture: AP

Mr Pepperdine said he saw people trying to resuscitate one of the women before her body was covered.

Search and rescue personnel work at Grandview Beach. Picture: AP
Search and rescue personnel work at Grandview Beach. Picture: AP

 

Lifeguards and search and rescue personnel at Grandview Beach. Picture: AP
Lifeguards and search and rescue personnel at Grandview Beach. Picture: AP

Search dogs were brought in to hunt for other possible victims, and a skip loader was brought in to move the dense, heavy debris. No other victims were found.

The beach is reached by wooden stairs from a parking lot above.

Homes atop the cliff were not in any danger, Encinitas Fire Chief Mike Stein said.

The cliff remained unstable and complicated the search effort, Mr Stein said.

A San Diego County Sheriff's deputy looks on as search and rescue personnel work at the site of a cliff collapse at a popular beach in Encinitas, California. Picture: AP
A San Diego County Sheriff's deputy looks on as search and rescue personnel work at the site of a cliff collapse at a popular beach in Encinitas, California. Picture: AP

Suburbs north of San Diego have contended with rising water levels in the Pacific Ocean, pressuring bluffs along the coast.

Some bluffs are fortified with concrete walls to prevent multimillion-dollar homes from falling into the sea.

Long stretches of beach in Encinitas are narrow strips of sand between stiff waves and towering rock walls.

Rescue dogs were used at Grandview Beach. Picture: AP
Rescue dogs were used at Grandview Beach. Picture: AP

People lounging on beach chairs or blankets are sometimes surprised as waves roll past them and within a few metres of the walls.

Grandview Beach is fairly narrow, with tides high this week. Surfers lay their boards upright against the bluff.

Cliffside collapses are not unusual as the ocean chews away at the base of the sandstone, authorities said.

A fire truck sits above the site of a cliff collapse at a popular beach in Encinitas, California. Picture: AP
A fire truck sits above the site of a cliff collapse at a popular beach in Encinitas, California. Picture: AP

Some beach areas were marked with signs warning of slide dangers.

Several people have been killed or injured over the years in bluff collapses.

The Tribune reported that Rebecca Kowalczyk, 30, of Encinitas died near the same area on January 16, 2000, when a 100-metre-wide chunk of bluff fell and buried her.

Bluffs give way four to eight times a year in Southern California, but "nothing of this magnitude," said Brian Ketterer, southern field division chief of California State Parks.

"This is a naturally eroding coastline," Encinitas Lifeguard Capt. Larry Giles said. "There's really no rhyme or reason, but that's what it does naturally. … This is what it does, and this is how are beaches are actually partially made. It actually has these failures."