Large waves batter Salinas, south coast, flooding homes and condos; Experts warn of rising sea levels

Jan 19, 2023 | 7 comments

Meteorologists are warning that large waves will continue to pound Ecuador’s southern Pacific coast and the Galapagos Islands through the rest of the week and possibly longer. They say the waves, some 2.6 meters above normal, and high surf are a product of weather systems in the northern Pacific Ocean and are also a threat to small fishing vessels.

Large waves and high ocean levels are damaging property in Punta Blanca, north of Salinas.

Although the waves are affecting the entire mainland coast, the weather service says that the Santa Elena peninsula is especially vulnerable due to its exposed position.

Since Saturday, waves have breached sea walls in Salinas and Punta Blanca, flooding homes and businesses and the first level of several high-rise condominiums. In Punta Blanca, sea walls and structures near the beach were reported destroyed and an unknown number of vehicles were damaged by flooding.

In Salinas, the malecón was closed Tuesday and Wednesday after waves overwashed seawalls, depositing large piles of sand on the roadway. Several businesses were forced to close due to flooding, with owners reporting extensive damage to building interiors. The management of five high-rise condominiums said their lobbies were flooded and underground parking facilities were inundated, damaging vehicles.

“We have experienced major economic losses in many oceanfront locations and are on alert for more damage,” a Salinas tourism official said Wednesday. “These high-water events have, unfortunately, become more frequent in recent years and we must rebuild our sea walls to anticipate them.” The official added that local businesses are not only worried about physical damage but the loss of tourist revenue.

The command office at the Port of Salinas said an “unknown number” of boats have been damaged by the high surf, with at least two fishing vessels being totally destroyed.

The Salinas malecon was closed Wednesday after high wave action deposited tons of sand on the roadway.

Former assistant director of Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute, Klever Pacheco, warns that the problems in Salinas and other coastal communities will only get worse. “Several studies have concluded that Salinas is particularly vulnerable to ocean flooding,” he says. “The major factors are sea level rise, siltation of the bay and underwater dislocation caused by shifting tectonic plates.” In total, water levels in Salinas and Santa Elena have risen by 39 centimeters since records were first kept in the 1970s.

Pacheco is also concerned about poor construction standards of condominiums built near the ocean. “There is extensive salt water intrusion under these buildings which could compromise structural integrity. I worry about collapses such as the one we witnessed in Florida two years ago.”

Most beaches south of Manta have been closed Wednesday due to the high wave action. In Santa Elena and Manabi Provinces, police escorted dozens of bathers off the beach during low tide. Two surfers were taken into custody in Montanita when they refused to leave the beach. According to the police report, the pair became belligerent when they were ordered out of the water.

Ecuador’s Oceanographic Naval Institute said that the Galapogos Islands are also being affected by high water, although to a lesser extent than the mainland shore. Meanwhile, ECU 911, Ecuador’s security service, said it is monitoring the situation and alerting police and risk management officials to emergencies as they occur.