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News / Nation & World

Historic storm sends debris through LA’s Hollywood Hills and leaves 1.1 million without power

By CHRISTOPHER WEBER, Associated Press
Published: February 5, 2024, 12:40pm
8 Photos
Julia Morelli and Sam Jackson battle the fierce wind gusts along Great Highway in San Francisco on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.
Julia Morelli and Sam Jackson battle the fierce wind gusts along Great Highway in San Francisco on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle via AP) Photo Gallery

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A storm of historic proportions unleashed record levels of rain over parts of Los Angeles on Monday, sending mud and boulders down hillsides dotted with multimillion-dollar homes, posing grave dangers to the city’s large homeless population and knocking out power for more than a million people in California.

The storm was the second one fueled by an atmospheric river to hit the state over the span of days. About 1.4 million people in the Los Angeles area, including the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills, were under a flash flood warning Monday morning. Up to 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain had already fallen in the area, with more expected, according to the National Weather Service, which called the flash flooding and threat of mudslides “a particularly dangerous situation.”

Already crews were rescuing people from swift-moving water in various parts of Southern California.

Gushing rivers carried mud, rocks and objects from people’s multimillion-dollar homes, including coolers, ladders and plastic crates in Studio City, an area named after a movie studio lot, on the backside of the Hollywood Hills. Several homes were damaged, including one with a crumpled garage door from the debris slide.

A text late Sunday alerted Keki Mingus that a neighbor’s house at the top of a hill was in trouble.

“Mud, rocks and water came rushing down through their house and another neighbor’s house and into our street,” Mingus said as water continued to rush down the road around dawn on Monday. “I can’t believe it. It looks like a river that’s been here for years. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Sixteen residents were evacuated in Studio City and two homes were damaged, city officials said.

The Los Angeles Fire Department had 1,000 firefighters on duty contending with 49 mudslides and debris flows, 130 reports of flooding, half a dozen structure fires and several rescues of motorists stranded in vehicles.

Drake Livingston who lives in the Beverly Crest neighborhood, was watching a movie around midnight when a friend alerted him to flooding.

“We looked outside and there’s a foot-and-a-half of running water, and it starts seeping through the doors,” Livingston said.

Livingston scrambled to save studio equipment downstairs and other items but eventually had to retreat to a neighbor’s house. In the morning, Livingston’s car was submerged in several feet of mud as were other vehicles.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass urged residents to avoid driving, warning of fallen trees and electrical lines on flooded roadways.

Over 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) of rain has fallen in the Santa Monica Mountains and Los Angeles Fire Chief Kristin Crowley said that flooding, rockslides and debris flows will continue to be a threat in areas around recent wildfire burn scars.

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“The hazards of this storm have yet not passed,” said Crowley, noting that rain is forecast to continue into Tuesday.

A record 4.1 inches (10.41 centimeters) of rain fell Sunday in downtown Los Angeles, making it the 10th wettest day on record, the National Weather Service said. That’s more rain than the area typically gets for the entire month.

That didn’t stop the Grammy Awards on Sunday night from continuing as planned at downtown’s Crypto.com Arena.

Jeb Johenning said his neighbor was being dropped off in their hilly neighborhood after watching the Grammys when “the hill chased him” and completely engulfed the SUV they were in, briefly trapping him and the driver.

“Fortunately no one was hurt,” he said.

The weather service forecast up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rainfall across Southern California’s coastal and valley areas, with 14 inches (35 centimeters) possible in the foothills and mountains over the next two days.

Commuters stepped through several inches of floodwater as they rushed to catch trains at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

The havoc wrought on Monday in Southern California came after the storm over the weekend inundated streets and brought down trees and electrical lines throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, while the weather service issued a rare “hurricane force wind warning” for the Central Coast.

Just to the south in San Jose, emergency crews pulled occupants out of the windows of a car that was stranded by flooding and rescued people from a homeless encampment alongside a rising river.

In Yuba City, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, police said they were investigating the death of a man found under a big redwood tree in his backyard Sunday evening. A neighbor heard the tree fall, and it was possible the man was using a ladder to try and clear the redwood when he was killed, police said on Facebook.

In Southern California, officials warned of potentially devastating flooding and ordered evacuations for canyons that burned in recent wildfires and that are at high risk for mud and debris flows.

Off the coast of Long Beach, 19 people were rescued Sunday after the 40-foot sailboat they were traveling in lost its mast, said Brian Fisk, a firefighter and paramedic for the Long Beach Fire Department.

Another vessel heard the distress call on the marine radio and helped rescue eight people while 11 were able to get onto the rocky breakwater by Alamitos Bay where they were rescued by lifeguards, he said. One person was treated for injuries.

“They went out sailing in gale-force winds and stormy weather,” Fisk said. “They’re very, very lucky.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services activated its operations center and positioned personnel and equipment in areas most at risk.

Evacuation orders were issued in many parts, stretching from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles Counties where emergency shelters were in place.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, said its schools would be open Monday, with the exception of Topanga Elementary Charter School and Vinedale College Preparatory Academy.

But classes were canceled Monday for schools throughout Santa Barbara County, where numerous streets were flooded Sunday. The area in 2018 was devastated by deadly mudslides.

Heavy snow was expected throughout the Sierra Nevada and motorists were urged to avoid mountain roads.

Much of the state had been drying out from the initial atmospheric river-powered storm that blew in last week. Atmospheric rivers are relatively narrow plumes of moisture that form over an ocean and can produce torrential amounts of rain as they move over land.

Both atmospheric rivers were called a “Pineapple Express” because the plume of moisture stretches back across the Pacific to near Hawaii.

Since 2022, 46 atmospheric rivers have made landfall on the U.S. West Coast, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes. Nine were categorized as strong, two were extreme and one was exceptional. California experienced extensive flooding and massive snowfall, pulling the state out of a years-long drought.

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