Southern California digging out from days of relentless rain
Residents across California’s Central Coast were allowed to return home Tuesday following a torrential storm that swamped the region with eye-popping amounts of rain and choked roadways with mud and debris.
As of 2 p.m., all evacuation orders and shelter-in-place advisories had been canceled in Montecito and the rest of Santa Barbara County, officials said. Earlier in the day, authorities lifted evacuation orders and warnings in Paso Robles.
“The storm that we just experienced was a significant and powerful weather event, one in a series of storms that have and will continue to hit Santa Barbara County,” said Sheriff Bill Brown.
Rain deluged the entire county, he added in an afternoon news conference, “but the south county area was especially impacted, with unprecedented and historic rainfall levels.”
The powerful storm that knocked out power, toppled trees — including one that killed a toddler — and flooded homes along the coast in Santa Cruz continued its march through the region.
The storm is not entirely in California’s rearview mirror. Evacuation orders or warnings were in place for a long stretch of the Salinas River, downstream of the town of Bradley — including parts of King City and the entire town of Spreckels, Monterey County officials said. A stretch of the Carmel Valley was also under an evacuation order, and areas along the Big Sur River were downgraded to an evacuation warning Tuesday night.
Along the border between Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, parts of the Watsonville area also remained under evacuation orders or warnings.
Much of Southern California remains under advisories for flooding, high winds and high surf.
Major highways and other roads remained closed because of flooding, rock slides and debris flows; power was out in various parts of the state; and homes and other buildings were reported to have sustained significant damage.
At least 17 people have died in the back-to-back storms that have hit California.
Back-to-back storms across California have killed 17, including two motorists who died in a crash, and caused damage that could cost over $1 billion.
L.A. County — which has received 2 to 6 inches of rain along the coast and in coastal valleys and about 8 inches in the mountains — could see an additional .5 to 1.5 inches, with more expected at higher elevations, meteorologists say.
Tuesday’s storm, the latest in a series of atmospheric rivers to pound the state, is expected to generate less rain — defined more by periods of heavy showers than by steady rain throughout the day — but could still cause significant issues, including flooding and debris flows as communities reel from Monday’s extreme weather. Wind gusts up to 60 mph along the coast and 70 mph in the mountains were expected, along with dangerously high surf, including waves as high as 15 feet at beaches in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Meteorologists also warned that Tuesday’s storm could produce brief tornadoes and hail.
“We are definitely not out of the woods yet,” said Rich Thompson with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. Conditions should begin clearing up Tuesday afternoon, weather experts said.
Malibu Canyon Road is closed between Civic Center Way and Piuma because of a rock slide and large boulder in the road, and Topanga Canyon Boulevard is closed between Pacific Coast Highway and Mulholland Drive due to rock slides. Malibu’s four public schools switched to remote learning Tuesday, according to the city website.
In Hollywood Hills West, about a quarter-acre of hillside collapsed. No homes appeared threatened, but firefighters are investigating, and search-and-rescue experts were headed to the scene, said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Erik Scott.
Crews were working to evacuate 17 residents in Studio City who were sheltering in place after 3 to 5 feet of mud and debris flooded Fredonia Drive, Scott said. Nearby homes and residents were also affected, although no homes appeared damaged and no injuries have been reported, he said.
Tuesday morning, city workers armed with shovels and picks attempted to clear debris and mud that was piled at least 3 feet high at the intersection of Wrightwood Lane and Skyhill Drive in Studio City.
At least 22 have died as a result of California’s recent intense storms, many from drowning and fallen trees.
A group of neighbors observed from a distance as the river of mud pushed large logs, a pair of trash cans, basketballs and other material in all directions.
Around the corner on Fredonia Drive, the muddy mixture penetrated a garage fitted with sandbags.
Sarah Hunt, a resident of Studio City who lives on higher ground, called to check on a friend as she took her 13-year-old German shepherd on a rain-soaked walk.
“I have several friends whose homes and properties flooded or had a mudslide,” Hunt said. “I still think we’re lucky that no one was hurt.”
For Hunt, there was a feeling of déjà vu, as she was filming a documentary in Montecito in 2018, when deadly floods hit the area.
“The community helped each other during that crisis,” she said. “We need to do the same.”
Street access was limited around Fredonia Drive — blocked in many parts by either clean-up crews or by flooding.
Cars sat in water that reached the top of their tires. Even those inside garages were not spared, as several buildings had flooded.
“This reminds me of the Central Valley,” said resident Eldon Daetweiler, 64, who grew up in Visalia. “It used to flood there all the time. That was expected. This, not as much.”
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While this week’s storm was unusually strong, Hunt believes the real culprit for much of the damage is overdevelopment and a lack of preparation.
“This is a lesson for the city in terms of planning the hillside communities,” said Hunt, a documentary filmmaker. “They need to look at erosion and when someone wants to cut down trees and build in the hills. They must consider everyone else who lives below.”
In downtown Los Angeles, Union Station was flooded, and some commuters had to pick their way through standing water, while shuttles carried others.
Around dawn Tuesday, the Ventura County Fire Department’s swift water rescue team and the county’s aviation unit rescued a person who had been trapped on an island in the Ventura River overnight after not being reached for rescue Monday. No injuries were reported, officials said.
In Montecito and other communities, Monday’s mass evacuations came five years to the day after mudslides in the area left 23 people dead. Monday’s storm left roadways caked with mud, rocks and other debris. A section of East Mountain Drive, just south of the Cold Spring Trailhead, was washed away, according to images from the Montecito Fire Protection District.
Five years after mudslides killed 23 people, the entire town of Montecito was evacuated after rain pounded California. A recent independent study found floods and mudslides are no stranger to the small coastal town.
Greg Downs and his dog Snickers walked along Montecito Creek, which appeared tamer Tuesday morning. Downs, whose home nearby was not damaged in the storm, said the weather had put him on edge. Some of his neighbors spent the night at his home, he said. It turned out that their houses were also spared.
“It’s pretty much a blessing to be able to handle this amount of water,” he said about area creeks, adding that efforts to clean up the creek beds since 2018 have been successful.
About 100 people were hunkered down Tuesday in two American Red Cross evacuation centers in Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. Many were drivers who were stranded when the 101 Freeway was closed.
Among them was Chastnie Cribbs, 47, who stayed at the Carpinteria Veterans Memorial Building with her fiance, Eddie Sanchez, 57, and their dog, Chica. The couple was trying to return to San Pedro after a work trip in Washington. All hotels in the area were booked.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the setup,” Cribbs said. “Still, it was an experience — an experience I want to be over.”
Scarred by disaster, Montecito residents remain on edge as evacuation orders are lifted a day after a massive storm.
Carpinteria avoided the worst of the flooding because of infrastructure upgrades since 2018 and because municipal workers helped prepare ahead of Monday’s storm, according to City Manager Dave Durflinger.
“They were out clearing drains and stayed out through the night keeping an eye on rising creeks,” he said.
The storm’s most intense moments did not coincide with high tide, which could have exacerbated the threats, Durflinger said. Still, about 100 people were evacuated from their homes and from a senior living facility near Carpinteria Creek because of elevated water levels.
The senior living residents were relocated to the facility’s top floor, he said.
Emergency officials received more than 200 calls for service in the last 24 hours in Santa Barbara County, including for swift water rescues, said Scott Safechuck, public information officer with the county fire department. Stormwater basins overflowed, and roads have been ravaged. In Orcutt, where several homes were evacuated on Monday, residences appeared to have water and mud damage, he said. Crews were out tallying the storm’s impacts.
“We know there’s more damage out there,” Safechuck said.
Officials were also assessing the damage in San Luis Obispo County, where a motorist died after entering a flooded roadway, and a 5-year-old boy was missing after being swept away by floodwaters. In a video posted on Twitter on Tuesday, Scotty Jalbert, emergency services manager, said the search for the boy would resume once conditions allow.
Homes and other buildings were damaged or destroyed across the county, and infrastructure, including pipelines, roads and bridges, have significant damage, Jalbert said.
The storm took aim at L.A. County on Monday night, causing widespread street flooding and opening a sinkhole in Chatsworth into which a car fell, followed by a pickup truck.
The sinkhole, at least 50 feet wide and 30 feet deep, swallowed up 80% of the roadway on Iverson Road, just off the 118 Freeway. The Los Angeles Fire Department rescued two people from the car, while the two people in the truck escaped without assistance.
The road remained closed Tuesday afternoon, blocking access for residents of the Indian Springs Estates gated community. The abandoned vehicles sat inside the chasm amid standing water, exposed drainage pipes and mounds of crumbling wet earth.
“This really shocked us,” Chatsworth resident Bill Crane, 76, said of himself and his wife. “We couldn’t have imagined anything like this could have happened. I’ve been living here since 1997, and I’ve never seen anything like this or anything like this rain.”
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The retired electrical technician said his home sustained minimal damage as the storm pounded Southern California.
“With everything we’ve been seeing on TV, we’re lucky to have not been hurt,” he said. “I guess these people in the sinkhole are lucky to be alive too.”
Monday’s strong winds even led the Federal Aviation Authority to issue a temporary ground stop at Los Angeles International Airport.
During Tuesday’s L.A. City Council meeting, Councilwoman Nithya Raman thanked city departments and staff for their work during “an incredibly challenging time” and described impacts in hillside areas of her district.
“We had 18 residents who had mudslides in their backyard and have been advised to remain in their homes until we can dig some of them out,” Raman said. “A home near Laurel Canyon shifted off of its foundations entirely.”
The council voted unanimously to allocate funding for repairs on Mulholland Drive, where a landslide last week caused serious damage near Summit Circle, and on Iverson Road.
Mulholland Drive remains closed until further notice between Coldwater Canyon Drive and Laurel Canyon Boulevard, according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.
In Ventura County, firefighters rescued a man who was on the roof of his car after it became stuck on a flooded road.
The National Weather Service called the storm in Southern California “the most impressive” since one that hit the region from Jan. 5 to Jan. 7, 2005.
When an evacuation order reaches you, you need to leave. Now. Here’s how to prepare and what to have ready to go if you may need to evacuate during the rainstorms hitting California.
Time staff writers Christian Martinez, Nathan Solis, Rong-Gong Lin II and Julia Wick contributed to this report.
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