Storm-ravaged California scrambled to clean up and repair widespread damage on Wednesday as the lashing rain eased in many areas, although thunderstorms led a new atmospheric river into the northern half of the state.
The plume of moisture lurking off the coast stretched all the way over the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii, making it “a true Pineapple Express,” the U.S. National Weather Service said.
Its rains were expected to impact only Northern California, giving the south a break until more wet weather arrives by the weekend.
At least 17 people have died in the storms battering the state. The figure is likely to rise, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday during a visit to the scenic town of Capitola, on the Santa Cruz coast that was hard hit by high surf and flooding creek waters last week.
A pickup truck driver and a motorcyclist were killed early Tuesday in the San Joaquin Valley when a tree that had been struck by lightning fell on them, authorities said.
More than half of California’s 58 counties were declared disaster areas, the governor said.
Extensive storm damage
The previous storm that began Monday was one in a series that began late last month and repairing the damage may cost more than $1 billion US, said Adam Smith, a disaster expert with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Los Angeles Times reported.
Crews worked to reopen major highways that were closed by rockslides, swamped by flooding or smothered with mud while more than 10,000 people who were ordered out of seaside towns on the central coast were allowed to return home.
They included Montecito, a wealthy Santa Barbara County community that is home to Prince Harry and other celebrities where 23 people died and more than 100 homes were destroyed in a mudslide five years ago.
Yet thousands of people living near rain-swollen creeks and rivers remained under evacuation orders. In the San Joaquin Valley, raging waters from Bear Creek flooded parts of the city of Merced and neighbouring Planada, a small agricultural community along a highway leading to Yosemite National Park.
All 4,000 residents of Planada were ordered to leave Tuesday morning. Neighbourhoods were under water with cars submerged up to their roofs. Residents ordered to evacuate carried whatever they could salvage on their backs as they left in the rain.
Other evacuations were ordered because of levee breaches in parts of Monterey County.
Drought continues in much of state
Despite the rain, most of the state remained in extreme or severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The storms may help locally “but will not resolve the long-term drought challenges,” said Rick Spinrad, administrator of the NOAA.
Damage from the storm included washed-out roads and seaside businesses flooded by six-metre surf that pounded Santa Cruz County.
Many areas saw unprecedented amounts of rain coupled with furious winds and even hail and lightning that knocked down trees and damaged electrical lines.
Mudslides damaged some homes in pricey Los Angeles hillside areas, while further up the coast a sinkhole damaged 15 homes in the rural Santa Barbara County community of Orcutt.
Kevin Costner, best-actor winner in a television drama series for Yellowstone, was unable to attend Tuesday’s Golden Globe awards in Los Angeles because of the weather. Presenter Regina Hall said he was sheltering in place in Santa Barbara due to flooding.