Oil reaches Laguna Beach as cleanup efforts intensify after massive spill in Orange County

A dead fish at the mouth of the Santa Ana River, where sand berms and oil booms are in place to contain an oil spill in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Monday morning. Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS

LOS ANGELES — Crews worked overnight as efforts intensified to contain a massive oil spill off the Orange County coast while striations of crude continued washing onshore in Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach began seeing evidence of oil rolling in along its shore late Sunday.

The spill, first reported Saturday morning, originated from a pipeline running from the Port of Long Beach to an offshore oil platform known as Elly. The failure caused roughly 130,000 gallons of oil to gush into the Catalina Channel, creating a slick that spanned about 8,320 acres. The spill has left oil along long stretches of sand in Huntington Beach, killing fish and birds and threatening ecologically sensitive wetlands in what officials are calling an environmental catastrophe.

The oil will likely continue to encroach on Orange County beaches for the next few days, officials said. Laguna Beach closed city beaches Sunday night after projections showed the spill reaching Crystal Cove by 10 p.m. Officials said Monday they’re seeing evidence of some oil on the city’s beaches, but it was unclear how widespread the containment reached.

“I am devastated to share the news that the oil spill is expected to reach Laguna Beach this evening,” California Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, said late Sunday. “Our federal, state and county response teams are working through the night to try to mitigate this as much as possible.”

Fourteen boats working Sunday afternoon recovered about 3,150 gallons of oil from the ocean and deployed 5,360 feet of floating barriers known as booms in an effort to protect the coastline, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

A 5 1/2-mile stretch of sand in Huntington Beach from Seapoint Street near the Bolsa Chica wetlands to the Newport Beach city line at the Santa Ana River jetty remained closed Monday as crews continued cleanup efforts.

In Huntington Beach, which bore the brunt of the oil incursion Sunday, crews deployed 2,050 feet of booms to try to stop further incursion and protect sensitive wildlife areas including Talbert Marsh, a 25-acre ecological reserve across from Huntington State Beach that is home to dozens of species of birds. County officials also built large sand berms in the area to keep ocean water and oil from continuing to flow into the habitat, which has already been breached by oil. Officials on Sunday requested additional booms to protect Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

Newport Beach has not closed its beaches, but officials have asked people to stay out of the water. The Orange County Health Care Agency issued a health advisory Sunday recommending that those who may have encountered oil in the water seek medical attention.

Authorities are continuing to investigate the cause of the spill and say the timeline for cleaning up the area’s beaches remains unclear.

“In a year that has been filled with incredibly challenging issues, this oil spill constitutes one of the most devastating situations that our community has dealt with in decades,” Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr said.

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