Storms hit San Bernardino County, causing flooding, water rescues

48-year-old Joo Hwan Lee of El Segundo was killed in a powerful San Bernardino County flash flood when his vehicle was overturned and swept into a creek.

Swirling cells of thunderstorms wreaked havoc in parts of the mountains and desert of San Bernardino County on Sunday, clogging key access roads with rocks and mud, submerging cars and prompting a “shelter in place” order for at least 3,000 people.

By nightfall, there had been no serious injuries reported, though several people who were rescued from fast-running water had been treated for hypothermia, officials said. One man, in the Forest Falls mountain community, was forced to escape a debris flow by climbing a tree. Every vehicle that had been submerged in streams or floods had been searched and found empty, authorities said.

The county’s resources were being stretched thin. Scores of swift-water rescue teams and fire engines had been dispatched into far-flung reaches of the county, fire Capt. Josh Wilkins said.

“Every rescue unit we have; every fire engine we have in San Bernardino County,” Wilkins said. “We are literally approaching the maximum right now in terms of our call volume.”

The storms showed little sign of easing Sunday night. Typically, weather patterns in the area calm down in the evening, but by about 7 p.m., it appeared some of the more significant weather cells were circulating back toward the Forest Falls area after pummeling the San Bernardino Mountains and stretches of the Angeles National Forest.


“The whole thing could be repeating itself,” Wilkins said. The county was considering putting out a call for assistance to neighboring communities.

So far August has been surprisingly wet in Southern California, with unusual humidity and showers scattered throughout the region. The troubles in San Bernardino County appear to have started with a thunderstorm that began in the Claremont area on Sunday and spun off like pinwheels into the mountains and desert.

In Bear Creek, several hikers were lost in bad weather and were rescued. Heavy flooding was reported.