Thousands evacuated in California as deadly storms cause massive flooding, mudslides | CBC News


Tens of millions of Californians faced another bout of heavy downpours, high winds, flooding and mudslides on Monday after the relentless weather over the last 10 days killed 12 people and left tens of thousands without power.

An evacuation order for the entire community of Montecito and surrounding canyons scarred by recent wildfires came on the fifth anniversary of a mudslide that killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 homes in the coastal enclave.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the decision to evacuate nearly 10,000 people was “based on the continuing high rate of rainfall with no indication that that is going to change before nightfall.” Creeks were overflowing and many roads were flooded, he said.

The U.S. National Weather Service reported that up to 20 centimetres of rain fell over 12 hours, with several more inches predicted before the latest storm system moves through. Upscale Montecito is squeezed between mountains and the Pacific coast and home to such celebrities as Oprah Winfrey and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Up the coast, evacuation orders were issued in coastal, woodsy Santa Cruz County for about 32,000 residents living near rain-swollen rivers and creeks, said Melodye Serino, the deputy county administrative officer.

A large, muddy slide blocked both lanes of southbound Highway 17, a key but windy route into Santa Cruz from the San Francisco Bay Area. Vehicles were turned back at the summit as crews arrived to clean up.

More bad weather was expected in the days ahead, the National Weather Service said. Most of California’s 39 million residents could expect heavy rainfall of up to 13 centimetres near the coast, more than 30 centimetres of snow to the west and wind gusts topping 100 km/h across the state.

The weather has also toppled trees and power lines, knocking out power for tens of thousands of Californians. On Monday morning, some 120,000 homes and businesses were without electricity, according to data from In Northern California, several districts closed schools. 

The severe weather spawned violent wind gusts that toppled trucks, flooded the streets of small towns along Northern California’s coast and churned up a storm surge that destroyed a pier in Santa Cruz.

Flood risk grows

The heavy rain and snow have caused significant flooding and ground saturation, meaning the next storm to move through this week would bring an additional flood threat, the National Weather Service said.

The weather service warned of a “relentless parade of atmospheric rivers” — long plumes of moisture stretching out into the Pacific that can drop staggering amounts of rain and snow.

Crews repair downed power lines in Sacramento, Calif., on Monday. Tens of thousands of Californians are without power after a series of storms. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

The precipitation expected over the next couple of days comes after storms last week knocked out power to thousands, flooded streets and battered the coastline.

U.S. President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration on Monday to support storm response and relief efforts in more than a dozen counties, including Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said 12 people died as a result of violent weather during the past 10 days, and he warned that this week’s storms could be even more dangerous and urged people to stay home.

Newsom’s warning came on the fifth anniversary of a mudslide that killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 homes in coastal Montecito, north of Los Angeles, following a powerful storm. 

More rain to come

The first of the newest, heavier storms prompted the weather service to issue a flood watch for a large portion of Northern and Central California, with 15 to 30 centimetres of rain expected through Wednesday in the already saturated Sacramento-area foothills.

In the Los Angeles area, there was potential for as much as 20 centimetres of rain in foothill areas late Monday and Tuesday. High surf was also expected on west-facing beaches.

The rooftops of homes are seen surrounded by brown floodwaters.
An aerial view of flooded homes in Felton, a small town near Santa Cruz, Calif., on Monday. A storm is expected to cause flooding throughout the state in the coming days. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Since Dec. 26, San Francisco has received more than 25 centimetres of rain, while Mammoth Mountain, a popular ski area in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, got nearly three metres of snow, the National Weather Service said.

The storms won’t be enough to officially end California’s drought, but they have helped.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said he expects a break in the rain after Jan. 18.

“That is my best guess right now, which is good because it will give the rivers in Northern California, and now in Central California, a chance to come down,” he said.

A yellow crane reaches towards a very large tree which has collapsed onto a two-storey house.
A crane operator gets ready to lift an uprooted tree in Sacramento on Sunday, after high winds toppled trees and caused power outages. (Sara Nevis/The Sacramento Bee/The Associated Press)

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