Flash floods from storms close roads, touch off mudslides

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When Jose Juarez arrived here at 6 a.m. Monday, mud filled the roads outside Little Sister’s Truck Wash and water spilled onto the driveway.

Within 30 minutes, rain from what would become a destructive, hours-long storm had gotten into the bays where workers wash 18-wheelers. By then, the winds and the rain were so strong that Juarez said he had no choice but to close.

He and a team of workers would spend the rest of the day trying to clear mud off the driveway with brooms, a hose and even a miniature bulldozer. But late Monday, the truck wash was still caked with inches of mud.


“This really surprised me,” Juarez said. “In my whole time working here, this has never happened.”

Rain driven by Hurricane Norbert sent flash floods cascading throughout the Coachella Valley, trapping vehicles in water several feet deep, closing roads and causing scores of fender-benders, officials said. The storm forced an elementary school to evacuate, a library to close and spread debris into a seemingly endless sea of brown.

Between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. — during the peak of the storm — the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection made at least 43 water-related rescues in areas the agency covers, including Thousand Palms, Indian Wells and La Quinta. More than a dozen of those rescues dealt with residential floods, but spokeswoman Jennifer Fuhrman said she was not aware of any injuries.

At least 50 vehicles stalled or became stuck in standing water on the roadway, California Highway Patrol spokesman Mike Radford said. Some were abandoned in water 5 feet deep, and at least two dozen collisions occurred as people tried to drive through the bad weather.

The water had moved “like a white-water rapid,” Radford said. In one case, a pickup was traveling through flowing water that “just took that vehicle and washed it into the desert.”

“This is probably one of the worst storms I’ve seen since I’ve been here, in terms of affecting roadway,” Radford said.


It was the second day of flash flooding for Riverside County as moisture from Hurricane Norbert continued to enter the region. As that moisture interacted with a low-pressure system along the coast, powerful storm cells developed quickly.

Riverside Canyon saw more than 11/2 inches of rain over a two-hour period Sunday, and Valley Vista near Hemet had more than 3 inches of rain, said Stephen Harrison, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Firefighters had to rescue five adults and three children who became trapped near the 91 Freeway and 14th Street during Sunday’s downpour. Mud and other debris clogged freeways and residential streets.

On Monday, as much as 3 inches of rain fell a mile north of La Quinta, according to Tina Stall, a meteorologist with the weather service. But by 2 p.m. Monday, a flash-flood warning had been canceled, and although forecasts called for a 50% chance of more thunderstorms, the worst of the weather system was probably over, Stall said.

That news was little consolation for transit riders such as Joseph Estrada, a victim of the storm’s muddy aftermath.

Estrada was stuck at a gasoline station at Varner and Ramon roads. He had no choice but to call his aunt and ask for a ride home from school Monday because his bus refused to take passengers any farther


The rain is “making things difficult,” Estrada, 17, said. “Not just for me, but for everyone.”

Twitter: @James_Barragan


Barragan reported from Thousand Palms, Stevens from Los Angeles.