The first of several powerful storms rumbled across Southern California on Monday, prompting evacuations in mudslide-prone foothill areas, knocking out power for tens of thousands of people and causing havoc on flooded streets and highways.
Consecutive storms are expected each day through Thursday, with the biggest systems forecast to arrive after today.
“Wednesday and Thursday will be the big hit,” said Bill Hoffer, a spokesman with the National Weather Service’s Oxnard office. The back-to-back storms, according to experts, could be among the most powerful to batter the region since 2005, when heavy rains drenched the area.
Scores of Los Angeles County residents were evacuated in hillside areas, while cars were flooded up to their windshields in Costa Mesa. The torrential rains also prompted Disneyland to close early, along with nearby Knott’s Berry Farm, officials said.
The strong winds toppled a tree in Frazier Park in Kern County, killing a 21-year-old man who was sleeping in his home, authorities said. In Victorville, four teenagers trapped by rising water as they walked in a storm channel were rescued after one of the youths used a cellphone to call police, authorities said.
In the Paradise Valley area of La Cañada Flintridge, fire officials ordered more than 100 foothill homes evacuated as heavy rainfall increased the potential for mudslides in areas stripped of protective vegetation by the huge Station wildfire that broke out in August.
“It was just a roar as the river flowed by,” said resident Tony Nefas, who was filling sandbags Monday afternoon at his La Cañada Flintridge home.
Evacuation orders were later lifted in Nefas’ neighborhood, as well as in the Sun Valley area of Los Angeles. By Monday night, residents were allowed to return to all but one neighborhood, officials said.
By the end of the day Monday, up to 3 inches of rain had fallen in areas of the San Gabriel Mountains. Downtown Los Angeles had recorded 1.40 inches, while coastal areas had received from 0.74 to 1.80 inches, the Weather Service said.
Snowfall was reported at elevations above 7,000 feet, while winds gusted to 80 mph in the San Gabriel Mountains and 100 mph at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, the Weather Service said.
Earlier in the day, before the evacuation order had been lifted in La Cañada Flintridge, many residents said they were staying behind to protect their hillside homes.
Jack Fowlie, 51, a financial consultant who lives on Ocean View Boulevard, said he wasn’t concerned because he had a 6-foot-high wall protecting his home from mud flows.
“We don’t have to worry,” he said. “So far, so good.”
On nearby Ernslow Drive, a tractor scraped mud from the street near Skip McAuley’s house. He noted that a debris basin near the bottom of the street had quickly filled, but that he was staying put for the night. “I’m waiting until it starts raining again tomorrow,” McAuley said.
As the rains blanketed the region, utility crews tried to keep up with the downed power lines that left tens of thousands of people without electricity.
About 10,000 customers of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power had lost electricity, according to department officials. The affected areas included San Pedro, Wilmington, Toluca Lake, Eagle Rock and Mount Olympus.
The number of people without power was less than 1% of the utility’s customer base, said DWP official Aram Benyamin.
“We’ve been faring very well so far,” he said. “We’ve prepared for the worst to come.”
Elsewhere, more than 53,000 Southern California Edison customers were still without power Monday evening. The affected areas included neighborhoods in the Central Valley, Ventura County and Los Angeles and Orange counties, utility officials said. Some of the harder-hit areas included Manhattan Beach, where 1,400 people were without electricity, and Santa Ana, where another 1,600 had lost power.
As the rain fell, Los Angeles city officials set up a command center at a fire station in Panorama City and sent out teams to monitor debris basins and hillsides. Water-rescue teams were also deployed in burn areas in Sunland and along the Los Angeles River in Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood and Glassell Park.
Traffic signals were knocked out as cars splashed along flooded streets in the Westside and Mid-City areas Monday afternoon.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urged motorists to avoid driving. “If you don’t have to be on the road,” he said during an afternoon news conference, “why don’t you stay home.”
Times reporters Robert J. Lopez, Maeve Reston and Paloma Esquival contributed to this report.