Los Angeles records 475 mudslides during historic storm that has drenched Southern California
LOS ANGELES (AP) — One of the wettest storms in Southern California history unleashed at least 475 mudslides in the Los Angeles area after dumping more than half the amount of rainfall the city typically gets in a season in just two days, and officials warned Tuesday that the threat was not over yet.
“Our hillsides are already saturated. So even not-very-heavy rains could still lead to additional mudslides,” Mayor Karen Bass said during an evening news conference. “Even when the rain stops, the ground may continue to shift.”
Officials expressed relief that the storm hadn’t yet killed anyone or caused a major catastrophe in Los Angeles despite its size and intensity, with nearly 400 trees toppling. There were seven deaths reported elsewhere, including several people crushed by fallen trees in Northern California. Someone trying to enter the United States was swept up by a swollen Tijuana River channel and died early Tuesday as the California-Mexico border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Though the rain was tapering off, forecasters extended a flood watch through early Wednesday, warning the ground was too filled with water to hold much more after back-to-back atmospheric rivers walloped California in less than a week. Another heavy burst of rain is expected Wednesday evening before the region begins to dry out, said Tyler Kranz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Bass said the city is now looking toward recovery and will seek federal aid including emergency vouchers for homeless people in shelters. It may see if it can qualify for FEMA money to help people whose homes were damaged in hillside communities where insurance companies won’t cover. How many they are could take a while to count.
As of Tuesday, seven buildings had been deemed uninhabitable, officials said. Another 10 buildings were yellow-tagged, meaning residents could go back to get their belongings but could not stay there because of the damage.
“Hopefully no more homes will be damaged, but it’s too early to tell,” Bass said.
Dion Peronneau was trying to get her artwork and books out of her home, which was smashed into by a mudslide that knocked her sliding glass doors off their frame and came pouring into her home of 25 years.
“Eight feet of mud is pressed up against my window that is no longer there,” she said. “They put up boards to make sure no more mud can come in.”
Earlier Tuesday the National Weather Service issued a rare tornado warning for San Diego County. The warning was quickly cancelled, however, with forecasters explaining that the storm no longer appeared capable of producing a twister even if it briefly turned some San Diego streets into rivers.
Four people were killed in Northern California after the storm came ashore over the weekend with strong winds that toppled trees. They included a 63-year-old woman who was found dead Tuesday under a large tree in her backyard in Fair Oaks, Sacramento County officials reported.
The California Highway Patrol said a 69-year-old man died Monday after his truck went down an embankment and filled with water in Yucaipa, about 80 miles (128 kilometers) east of Los Angeles. Another accident in nearby Fontana killed a 23-year-old man after the car he was in crashed into a tow truck in the rain, the agency said.
The storm smashed or approached many rain and wind records across the state, with downtown Los Angeles recording its third-wettest two-day stretch since recordkeeping began in the 1870s. Between 6 and 12 inches (15.2 and 30.5 centimeters) of rain fell over the Los Angeles area.
All the water brought one silver lining: helping to boost often-strained water supplies, just two years after nearly all California was plagued by a devastating drought. Marty Adams, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said more than 1 billion gallons of rain were captured for groundwater and local supplies.
This latest storms follow a string of atmospheric rivers that pummeled the state last year, leading to at least 20 deaths.
In 2018, a mudslide in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, destroyed 130 homes and killed 23 people, making it one of the deadliest in California history.
Crews rescued people from swift-moving water in various parts of Southern California, including 16 people and five cats in Los Angeles County alone, authorities said. About an hour’s drive east in San Bernardino, two homeless people were rescued Monday after spending the night on a small island in the Santa Ana River, and three others were helped after they climbed into a tree above raging floodwaters that submerged their vehicle.
Authorities also reported several spills of raw sewage into the Pacific and closed affected beaches.
Near the Hollywood Hills, dotted with multimillion-dollar homes, floodwaters carried mud, rocks and household objects downhill through Studio City, officials said. Sixteen people were evacuated, and several homes were severely damaged.
The phenomenon known as El Nino is expected to bring additional storms to California this year, caused by the temporary warming of parts of the Pacific that changes weather worldwide.
Many businesses said they will be feeling the effects of a sales downturn long after the storm has gone.
At The Flowerman in Pasadena, florist and owner Lou Quismorio said that this close to Valentine’s Day, he would typically have a “pretty crowded store.” He hopes customers return with the sun.
“I can’t really worry about it,” he said. “I’ve got over 8,500 roses in my cooler right now.”
In San Diego, Sabrina Biddle was cleaning up after a few leaks in her dance studio.
“Back to dancing, no more storm,” she said.
Watson reported from San Diego. Associated Press journalists Christopher Weber, John Antczak and Damian Dovarganes in Los Angeles contributed.
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