Photo: The Canadian Press
In this image provided by Caltrans District 1, crews work to remove several fallen trees blocking US Highway 101 in Humboldt County near Trinidad, California, Wednesday, January 4, 2023. A severe winter storm approached California on Wednesday, causing a hurricane. rain water. Draining in anticipation of flooding and high winds, parts of the Midwest faced snow, ice, or tornadoes, and the South recovered from powerful storm surges overnight. (Caltrans District 1 via AP)
California authorities ordered evacuations in a high-risk coastal area where landslides killed 23 people in 2018 when a powerful storm hit the state on Wednesday, bringing high winds and rain that knocked out power and threatened to flood roads.
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to allow a quick response and help clean up another powerful storm that hit days earlier. The new storm has already left more than 76,000 customers in the San Francisco Bay Area and about 19,000 others along the Central Coast without power. Dozens of flights were canceled from San Francisco and schools in a suburb of the city preemptively canceled classes on Thursday.
Authorities have warned Northern Californians to stay off the roads.
“We expect this to be one of the most difficult and impactful storm series in California in the past five years,” said Nancy Ward, the new director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services from California.
The storm, which brought gusty winds to Northern California on Wednesday night, is one of three so-called river storms in the atmosphere last week that reached drought status.
In Southern California, storm intensity is expected to peak overnight, with Santa Barbara and Ventura counties likely to see the most rainfall, forecasters said.
The first evacuations have been ordered for people living in areas burned by three recent wildfires in Santa Barbara County, where overnight forecasts of heavy rain could cause widespread flooding and cause debris flows. County officials did not have an exact number on the number of people under evacuation orders, but Susan Klein Rothschild, a spokeswoman for the county’s emergency operations center, put the number in the hundreds.
Among the towns he was ordered to evacuate was Montecito, where five years ago huge boulders, mud and rubble swept from the mountains through the town to the beach, killing 23 people and destroying more than 100 homes. The city is home to many celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry and his wife, Megan.
“What we’re talking about here is a lot of water is coming down hills, going down streams and creeks, and when it goes down it gets bigger, and that’s the initial danger,” said Kevin Taylor, chief of the Montecito Fire Department.
Elsewhere, a 45-mile (72-kilometre) stretch of Coastal Highway 1 that runs through Big Sur was closed Wednesday night in anticipation of flooding and rockfall. To the north, 25 miles (40 kilometres) of Highway 101 was closed due to too many downed trees.
Officials have asked drivers to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary — and stay informed by signing up for updates from emergency officials about downed trees, power lines and flooding.
The storm was expected to drop up to 10 inches (25.4 cm) of rain on an area where the hills were already saturated over the past month.
Storms alone will not be enough to officially end the state’s current drought, which is now entering its fourth year. The U.S. Drought Monitor showed that most of California was experiencing severe to severe drought. Officials said the state’s main reservoirs are low and there is plenty of room to fill more water from the storm.
However, the trees are already stressed by years of limited rainfall. Now that the ground is suddenly saturated and the wind is strong, the trees are more likely to fall. That could cause widespread power outages or create a flooding risk, said Carla Nemeth, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources.
“We are in the midst of a flood emergency and also in the midst of a drought emergency,” she said in an emergency statement.
The storm comes after days of heavy rain on New Year’s Eve led to the evacuation of people in rural Northern California communities and saved many motorists from flooded roads. A few dams south of Sacramento were damaged. On Wednesday, authorities in southern Sacramento County found a body in a submerged car — one of four flood victims from that storm.
As of Wednesday evening, nine Northern California counties had a flood watch or warning.
Evacuation orders were in effect in Santa Cruz County’s Paradise Park along the fast-flowing San Lorenzo River, as well as areas along the Pajaro River. Residents who fled wildfires in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 2020 packed their bags as the cities of Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond and Felton were warned to prepare to evacuate.
Sonoma County officials have issued an evacuation warning along the Russian River.
Meanwhile, the 8,500 sandbags distributed by the authorities were not enough to meet demand as meteorologists warned of imminent flooding.
Robert O’Neill, a courtier d’assurance who lives and travailles in San Francisco, declares that he did not queue for obtenir des sacs de sable pour son garage et la maison d’un collegue afin de se preparer à storm.
As president of Town & Country Insurance Services, he gave employees the option to work from home on Wednesday, which many have done, he said. He planned to leave the office early and go home with him water, food, and duffel bags full of clothes, medicine, electronic chargers, and important papers.
He said, “We are in a big city, so we won’t be stuck around for long, but you never know.”
The storms also affected other locations in the United States. In the Midwest, heavy ice and snow this week closed schools in Minnesota and western Wisconsin and caused a passenger plane to crash into an icy walkway after landing in a blizzard in Minneapolis. Delta Air Lines said no passengers were injured.
To the south, a potential tornado destroyed homes, downed trees and flipped a car on its side in Montgomery, Alabama early Wednesday.
In Illinois, National Weather Service Chicago staffers planned to investigate storm damage Wednesday after at least six tornadoes, the rarest January recorded in the state since 1989.