Deep ocean swells punish Panama’s Pacific coast

Lagart Point on May 2, the start of the Convivio national bodyboarding competition

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A special news report

By Ilene Little

Fatality, hospitalizations, accidents and property damage result.

Lagart Point on May 2, the start of the Convivio national bodyboarding competition

Lagart Point on May 2, the start of the Convivio national bodyboarding competition (Photo: Kevin Conrad).

On Monday, April 27, the National System of Civil Protection (NSCP, or SINAPROC in Panama) warned of strong waves occurring on the Pacific coast of Panama from Tuesday, April 28 until the night of Tuesday, May 5, 2015. The days where extra caution was to be taken were Friday 1, Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 May. The National Weather Service said a storm off New Zealand churned big waves along the Southern California coastline. That storm could possibly be the source of the swells we experienced in Panama. Incidents of flooding and accidents were reported starting Friday, May 1, and continue through the publication of this report. One death was reported on Saturday, May 2 in Gorgona.

Lifeguards were out in force

Lifeguards were out in force.

Several Pacific beaches experienced strong swells on high tides. Along the coast, from Coronado’s Playa Malibu to Playa Venao on the Azuero Peninsula, the waves flooded roads, homes, restaurants, hotels and a school. Francisco Santamaria, regional director of Panama’s SINAPROC, reported strong wave activity on the beaches of Estero Rico and Barqueta, Alanje district.

“There are hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage from Gorgona to Farallon and Buenaventura,” said Rob Brown, a resident of Coclé. Resident, Dave Filing said, “Just after Club de Playa on the beach in San Carlos opened, the new swimming pool was taken out by the unexpected and extremely high waves.”

Piñas Bay reported very rough water. “We’ve had huge swells down here, but no problems,” said Adrienne Reeve of Tropic Star Lodge. The entrance to the Lodge is protected against the direct impact of the swells.

Gorgona on May 3, from the 19th floor of the Bahia Condo Tower

Gorgona on May 3, from the 19th floor of the Bahia Condo Tower (Photo: Chris DeRose).

Fatal and near-fatal accidents

On May 2, on El Encanto Beach in Saboga, a large swell broke a boat loose from its anchor. The boat driver was seriously hurt while trying to maneuver the boat away from the breaking surf. The next swell smacked the panga driver in the head and then ran over him. He is lucky to be alive. He was airlifted from Contadora to Panama City where he is recovering in the hospital.

Around 5:30 p.m. on May 2 in Playa Malibu, an owner at the PH Biltmore said three of the apartment building’s residents were walking on the beach when they spotted a man in the ocean and pulled him to shore. The “bomberos” (firefighters) who arrived were unable to revive the man, later identified as “Tony” by neighbor, Adolfo Silva.

Many hotels reported damages

Many hotels reported damages.

“The message here is that the ocean can be deceptively dangerous,” said the Biltmore apartment owner. “Last June, I found that out when a wave knocked me face down and paralyzed me. I would have been another of its victims, but my wife and a neighbor, just two people, spotted me and pulled me to the shore.”

Omer Levy surfs the southern swells that arrived May 2 to Playa Venao

Omer Levy surfs the southern swells that arrived May 2 to Playa Venao (Photo: @vivavenao).

The neighbor did CPR and saved my life. I spent three days at the National Hospital, two of them in intensive care. The ambulance driver demanded $500 cash to drive me to Panama City, but I was unconscious. Fortunately, there was an ATM at the Rey in Coronado, and my wife had her Global debit card. This happened within 50 yards of where Tony drowned.”

Body boarders braved the waves

Kevin Conrad filmed the waves and body boarders competing in the “Convivio” tournament held at La Garita on Saturday, May 2. Conrad is the official photographer for the Pedasí body boarding community.

Be sure to visit our Facebook page to see Kevin’s exciting video.

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