A storm barreling into Southern California on Wednesday morning unleashed a mudslide that forced the closure of a major Inland Empire freeway for several hours after it trapped numerous drivers.
Periods of intense rain sent mud and large rocks onto all lanes of the eastbound 91 Freeway near Green River Road in Corona at about 2 a.m., leaving some drivers stranded, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Crews were dispatched to clear the roadway and by 7:20 a.m., three lanes as well as an express lane of the freeway were reopened, while two lanes and the shoulder remained closed, said David Richardson, spokesman of the California Department of Transportation in Orange County. It was unclear how soon the final two lanes will be reopened, but he said crews were working quickly to remove debris.
"We have to make sure we are keeping everyone as safe as possible," Richardson said.
When the debris flow hit, a SigAlert was issued and the CHP diverted traffic off the freeway at Gypsum Canyon Road. Northbound Route 241 to the eastbound 91 was also closed.
A geologist will evaluate the freeway hillside, which was scarred by fires, Richardson said. As of Wednesday morning, the hillside didn't appear to have any stress cracking, he said.
Elsewhere, the storm prompted temporary evacuations in Camarillo Springs, which was hit by rocks and mudslides on Friday. Forecasters warned of possible debris flows in areas that had been burned in recent fires.
The storm caused scattered showers, lightning and thunder across the region, with some areas hit by periods of heavy rain. The storm also triggered marine warnings off the coast where possible waterspouts were spotted.
"This storm brought a little more punch to it than originally expected," said meteorologist Curt Kaplan of the National Weather Service.
The mountains and foothills are likely to get 1 to 2 inches of rain, and 3 to 6 inches of snow is expected above 6,000 feet. Small, isolated thunderstorms could pop up throughout the day. Rainfall is forecast to taper off by Wednesday night.
"This is not a well-defined system — you can't really predict everything," said National Weather Service weather specialist Bonnie Bartling.
Pockets of intense rain caused flooding in parts of Torrance and the South Bay on Tuesday night. The downpours blocked intersections and damaged a few businesses, and sat over the region for an extended period. Up to a quarter of an inch of rain fell in that storm.
Another storm should arrive in Southern California on Friday, but forecasters said it would be the weakest one this week. San Luis Obispo County and the rest of the Central Coast should experience light showers, but Los Angeles should have only gray skies with scant precipitation.
The damp and gloomy week is expected to give way to gradual warming Sunday, with temperatures in the 70s that will continue early next week.