With Hurricane Hilary expected on Sunday to bring the first tropical storm to hit Southern California in 84 years, Long Beach residents and officials are preparing for the worst.

“It’s probably overkill,” said 73-year-old Paul Quirk, who lives near Cal State Long Beach. “But better to be safe than sorry.”

Quirk was one of dozens of people at Bay Shore Beach on Saturday morning filling up sand bags to take home.

“As you can see here, a lot of people are concerned about it,” Quirk said.

Hilary is expected to plow into Mexico’s Baja peninsula on Saturday night and then surge northward as a tropical storm.

A flood watch is slated to be in effect for much of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, including in Long Beach, from Sunday morning through Monday evening, according to the National Weather Service. The storm will also bring high winds, heavy rains and increased swells to Long Beach, according to city officials. Officials also talked of evacuation plans for California’s Catalina Island.

Donna, a Naples resident, had plans to visit Catalina Island Sunday. But as of Saturday morning, those plans were put on hold, with Donna instead traveling over to Bay Shore beach for 10 bags of sand to protect her home.

“We were in Mexico for a hurricane a number of years ago, and it can be pretty nasty,” she said. “Even though we’ve never really had them here, climate change is changing everything.”

To help residents prepare for the storm, volunteers from Long Beach’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), as well as other cities, shoveled sand for several hours at one of many filling stations in the city. Traffic built up along Ocean Boulevard and Claremont Avenue as people parked their cars on the side of the road to retrieve sand bags.

Volunteers from the Community Emergency Response Team help people fill up sand bags at Bay Shore Beach Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. Photo by Fernando Haro.

Long Beach Fire Department spokesperson Capt. Jake Heflin said “primary focus No. 1” has been getting sand bags out to as many people as possible.

Sand bags have been limited to 10 per person. But before noon Saturday,  the station at Bay Shore Beach was already running low on sand bags, while more and more people arrived looking to find one.

“The demand has exceeded the supply we had,” Heflin said, adding that workers have had to go around city stores looking for more bags. “It’s not a typical ask that we get on an annual basis. We plan for annual storms, but not to this degree.”

As of Saturday afternoon, officials estimated they’d given out 40,000 to 50,000 sand bags.

“This is more than any other time that we’ve deployed sand bags,” Mayor Rex Richardson said. “So there’s unprecedented demand but we’ve been prepared and we’ve been able to replenish.”

Aside from the sand bags, Heflin says “the plan is to have a resource pool the can be readily deployable when there’s a need,” throughout the city.

As of now, “it’s hard to tell” what that resource pool will look like, “but we’ll have a better understanding later in the day,” Heflin said.

The sand-filling stations will be available for the entirety of the storm, which is expected to last through Monday.

Dozens of people showed up to Bay Shore Beach Saturday morning to fill up sand bags in preparation Hurricane Hilary. Photo by Fernando Haro.
A man picks up sand bags at the sand bag filling station at Bay Shore Beach Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. Photo by Fernando Haro.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more information from city officials.

Hurricane Hilary threatens ‘catastrophic and life-threatening’ flooding in Mexico and California