A powerful winter storm that pounded Southern California on Saturday, triggering mudflows that shut down Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and Highway 101 in Santa Barbara County, will ease into scattered showers for the next few days.
“The worst has already happened,” said Kristen Stewart, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
The storm, the second in a series forecast to strike the area, moved into Santa Barbara County early Saturday with intense bursts of rain and wind that topped 80 mph. The storm tapered off slightly in the evening but was forecast to pick up again early Sunday, with wind gusts of up to 60 mph and overnight rainfall totals of up to 3 inches. Spotty showers were expected in the afternoon.
Flash-flood warnings were issued for some areas burned in the massive 2017 Thomas fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, and several neighborhoods were under evacuation orders. Flash-flood warnings were also issued for parts of Orange County and the Inland Empire affected by the Holy fire last year. In Los Angeles County, a flash flooding watch will continue through 7 a.m. Sunday.
Highway 101 was closed between Sheffield Drive and San Ysidro Road in Montecito due to mudflows caused by flooding around swollen Romero and San Ysidro creeks, authorities said. The highway was reopened Saturday night.
Pacific Coast Highway was closed in both directions near Yerba Buena Road late Saturday morning due to a mudslide that covered a portion of the northbound lanes, officials said. No homes were affected and road crews were busy clearing the mud, which in some areas was up to 3-feet deep.
Meanwhile, a Ventura County sheriff’s search-and-rescue team member was killed and three other team members were injured in a crash on rain-slicked Interstate 5 near Gorman in northern Los Angeles County, officials said. The group was on its way to Mt. Pinos for a training exercise when they saw a crash on the freeway and stopped to help.
“While they were assisting people, a vehicle plowed into the scene,” Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Buschow said. “They stopped to help people because that’s what they do. This is another tough day for us.”
At least six other people were hurt and taken to hospitals.
The victim, Jeff Dye, was a volunteer with the Fillmore Mountain Search and Rescue Team, the Sheriff’s Department said.
Amtrak also reported delays for Pacific Surfliner trains north of Ventura due to storm debris on the tracks.
Stewart said a third storm will move into the Los Angeles region on Monday but will not be as intense as the previous ones. Up to 1 inch of rain is expected through Tuesday before the region returns to dry weather.
The storm was forecast to dump up to 7 inches of rain in mountain areas, and the weather service warned of possible heavy snow in mountain passes.
The Los Angeles Fire Department said it was managing more than 100 emergency incidents citywide just before 1 p.m., many of which were rain-related.
Two homes in the Hollywood Hills were evacuated due to flowing mud, authorities said.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Friday for parts of Ventura County that were ravaged by the Woolsey fire. Residents of sections of Malibu also were advised to leave, as well as those living in nearby areas, such as the Seminole Springs Mobile Home Estates.
On Friday, about 75 sheriff’s officials spent five hours knocking on doors in the Sherpa, Thomas and Woolsey fire burn areas and told residents they had to evacuate, said Kelly Hoover, spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
A majority followed the orders and sought shelter elsewhere, Hoover said. As usual, some chose to stay, and those people were made aware of the dangers, such as loss of power and the possibility of being trapped in their home.
Authorities pushed them to leave, “but we can’t make them do that,” she said, and sheriff’s officials were waiting to see whether the evacuation orders should be lifted or extended.
“We’re in a holding pattern right now,” Hoover said. “We’re waiting to hear from the National Weather Service.”
Riverside County officials also urged people living in the burn areas affected by the Holy and Cranston fires to evacuate late Friday, while it was still safe to do so.
“Homes in or near burn areas are at risk of debris flows,” the online warning read. “Intense rain may cause debris flows, which are deadly, fast-moving landslides. There is also a risk of flooding, mud flow, rock fall and other landslides during and immediately after rain. Residents are reminded to maintain vigilance and always take personal responsibility for their safety. Now is the time to GET READY for potential evacuations.”
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office issued evacuation orders for swaths of homes in the Thomas, Whittier and Sherpa fire burn areas, the agency said on Twitter. Residents were urged to avoid low-lying areas, standing water, and creeks or streams.
The Santa Barbara City College campus was also closed late Saturday morning and all classes were canceled.
The Red Cross set up an evacuation center at Goleta Valley Community Center at 5679 Hollister Ave.
Locally, officials in Burbank issued voluntary evacuation orders for residents of Country Club Drive above Via Montana, beginning at 5 a.m. Saturday and continuing through at least 4 p.m. Flash-flood warnings had been issued for much of Los Angeles County, and meteorologists warned that coastal flooding could start about 7:30 a.m.
In Malibu Saturday afternoon, Caltrans crews worked to clear the highway of mud up to 3-feet deep south of County Line Beach. A RV camper parked along the side of PCH became submerged in mud and surrounded by tree branches.
Ventura County Fire Capt. Joe Dullam said the highway was also covered in two spots near Deer Creek Road that have been problematic in recent storms, including one area where several vehicles became stuck in early January.
“This is pretty much what we expected,” Dullam said.
Don Burpee said it’s not the first time the neighborhood has seen mud wash down from the nearby hillside that burned in the Woolsey fire. But Saturday’s mudslide was the largest, the Malibu resident said.