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Sunbathers scramble for safety as massive wave hits in viral video

A viral video captured in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, Nov. 5, demonstrated the power of the ocean when a massive wave crashed ashore with little warning, sending dozens of people scrambling for dry land.

As the wave gushed inland, it swept away beachgoers and all of their belongings and eventually flooded a nearby street. The wave was up to 11 feet tall, according to The Associated Press. It is unclear if anyone was seriously injured.

Beachgoers scrambled for safety as a massive wave crashed ashore near Rio de Janeiro on Nov. 5, 2023. (Instagram/@romulolferrari)

The exact cause of the massive wave has yet to be determined, but there are two possibilities that may be to blame.

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On Sunday, a large storm was swirling over the Atlantic Ocean just southeast of Rio de Janeiro. Although the center of the storm was well out to sea, it was powerful enough to generate large swells that could reach hundreds of miles from its center, including along the coast of southeastern Brazil where Rio de Janeiro is located.

A large storm spinning off the eastern coast of South America on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023. (NASA WorldView)

The culprit behind the tsunami-like swell could also have been a phenomenon known as a "sneaker wave."

As the name implies, these waves can sneak up on beachgoers and catch folks off guard.

"Sneaker waves are potentially deadly waves that surge further up the beach than expected, overtaking the unaware," NOAA explained on its website. "There can be 10 to 20 minutes of small waves right before a sneaker wave strikes. Beachgoers can be swept into the ocean."

Sneaker waves are not the same as rogue waves, which occur at sea, but have also captured headlines in the past.

In November of 2020, oceanographers detected the most extreme rogue wave on record when a buoy off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, measured a wave 58 feet tall -- taller than most four-story buildings.

"Rogue, freak, or killer waves have been part of marine folklore for centuries, but have only been accepted as real by scientists over the past few decades," NOAA explained on its website.

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