Rain prompts flood rescues, downs trees and forces evacuations

A collection of storm images.
Rain, wind and snow pound the Southland.
(Los Angeles Times)

As Tuesday’s powerful storm pounded Southern California, firefighters plucked a man from the Los Angeles River and searched for other possible victims, while emergency crews in Orange County rescued homeowners trapped by mudslides.

Around 7:50 a.m., fire dispatchers received a call from a man who had been swept into a small tributary of the L.A. River in Sylmar, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. Usually shallow, gentle streams, the river and its offshoots were transformed by the storm into torrents.

The man was carried about half a mile and into a tunnel that runs underground near Dronfield Avenue and Hubbard Street, said Nicholas Prange, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department. In the darkness, he managed to grab an object to stop himself from being swept further downstream, Prange said.

A powerful storm that has already walloped Northern California could bring as much as 3 inches of rain to Southern California’s coastal areas.

Dec. 14, 2021

“He was still on the phone with dispatchers who were relaying the message on the radio,” Prange said.

Sounding the fire engine’s horn to alert the man to their location, the rescue team checked one maintenance hole after the next until finding him.

After he was pulled to safety, the man was treated him for scrapes, cuts, bruises and hypothermia, Prange said. How he was caught in the river was not immediately clear.

Earlier Tuesday morning, bystanders reported a rollover crash on North Main Street in Chinatown near the L.A. River, according to the fire department.

Within minutes, fire crews realized the vehicle had fallen into the swollen, fast-moving river and swept away, Prange said.

Firefighters took up positions at bridges downstream as a helicopter flew in search of the vehicle and possible occupants.

After two hours, crews spotted the vehicle pinned beneath the Washington Boulevard bridge near Soto Street in South Los Angeles, about four miles downstream, Prange said. No victims were found.


Shortly afterward, firefighters saw a second car being carried by the river’s suddenly powerful current. As the water continued to rise, both vehicles became pinned against the bridge’s footing.

An hour later, a third vehicle, a gray Toyota Camry, ripped past the bridge and continued downstream into Long Beach, where it eventually came to rest, fully submerged, at the center of the river near Wardlow Road, said Capt. Jack Crabtree, spokesman for Long Beach fire.

Firefighters planned to let the waters subside before trying to pull the vehicles out of the river. It was unclear how the vehicles entered the river and whether they were operating or parked before being swept away.

The search for victims was continuing.

Elsewhere in Southern California, San Bernardino County authorities announced evacuation orders as mud and debris flows from fire-ravaged slopes threatened to damage dozens of homes and businesses in mountain and foothill communities including Oak Glen, Yucaipa, Forest Falls, and Nealey’s Corner.

There were no reports of injuries or property damage on Tuesday morning, though some roads were closed due to mudflow, said San Bernardino County fire spokesman Eric Sherwin.

In Orange County, mudslides spilled into the neighborhood of Silverado Canyon, near where the Silverado fire burned in the fall of 2020, the Orange County Fire Authority said on Twitter. Fire crews rescued a number of residents who were trapped inside their homes by the gushing mud. No residents or rescue crew members were injured in the operation.

In Riverside, firefighters rescued five adults and two cats from the Santa Ana River at the Mission Inn Avenue bridge, authorities said on Twitter.


And in Calabasas, heavy winds ripped trees from their roots along Mulholland Drive, forcing road closures. The storm also took down trees in Whittier, Long Beach and in the Santa Clarita Valley, where minor rockslides and debris flow were also reported.