Three people are dead and at least one other was injured after a cliff collapsed on a popular Southern California beach Friday, authorities said. The sandstone bluff gave way shortly before 3pm in Encinitas, a suburb north of San Diego, per the AP, NBC San Diego, and the New York Daily News. The area, near Grandview Beach, is highly popular with local residents, surfers, and vacationers. The beach was filled with people at the time of the collapse. A KNSD-TV helicopter captured footage of beach chairs, towels, surfboards, and beach toys strewn about the sand. Homes on top of the bluff were not in any danger, Encinitas Fire Chief Mike Stein said. Rescue crews were searching for additional victims, but they didn't have full access because of safety concerns.
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 Larry Giles added. "There's really no rhyme or reason, but that's what it does naturally." 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. People lounging on beach chairs or blankets are sometimes surprised as waves roll past them and within a few feet of the walls. Some areas are only accessible by steep wooden stairs that descend from neighborhoods atop the cliffs. (Read more Southern California stories.)