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Los Angeles records more than 300 mudslides during storm that has drenched Southern California

Published: February 6, 2024, 9:50am
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Rising waters caused by heavy rain destroy encampments along the Santa Ana River near Van Buren Street in Riverside, Calif., on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024.
Rising waters caused by heavy rain destroy encampments along the Santa Ana River near Van Buren Street in Riverside, Calif., on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (Anjali Sharif-Paul/The Orange County Register via AP) Photo Gallery

LOS ANGELES (AP) — One of the wettest storms in Southern California history began to ease up on Tuesday after bombarding Los Angeles with nearly half of its seasonal rainfall in just two days. Although the rain was tapering off, the storm had already caused more than 300 mudslides, and officials warned that there could be more.

The slow-moving storm that parked itself over the region on Monday and dumped a record amount of rain on sections of the nation’s second-largest city could linger into Wednesday, the National Weather Service said. Scattered showers and possible thunderstorms were expected to bring light to moderate rain to the region, but some places could get brief yet fierce downpours that could dump up ton an inch (roughly 2.5 centimeters) of rain in an hour.

Crews have responded to 307 mudslides and five buildings have been deemed uninhabitable since the atmospheric river-fueled storm moved into the region over the weekend, Los Angeles Fire Chief Kristin Crowley said at a news conference Tuesday.

Despite the torrents of rain, widespread flooding and many landslides, there have been no deaths in Los Angeles attributed to the storm, Mayor Karen Bass said. It killed three people, however, before moving into the southern part of the state

“Angelenos should know that even though the rain may ease up a bit today, this storm continues. And that means we still need Angelenos to take precautions and to stay informed during this time,” the mayor said.

Most of Southern California remained under flood watches, and the weather service warned people to remain on high alert, as swollen and fast-moving creeks and rivers increase the risks of drowning and the need for swift-water rescues.

“This has truly been a historic storm for Los Angeles,” Ariel Cohen, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Los Angeles-area bureau told reporters, noting that the city just recorded its third-wettest two-day stretch since recordkeeping began in the 1870s.

The storm plowed through Northern California over the weekend, killing three people who were crushed by falling trees before moving south and lingering. It was the second storm fueled by an atmospheric river to hit the state in a matter of days.

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On Monday, the storm pounded Los Angeles with rain, sending mud and boulders down hillsides dotted with multimillion-dollar homes while people living in homeless encampments in many parts of the city scrambled for safety.

Near the Hollywood Hills, floodwaters carried mud, rocks and household objects downhill through Studio City, city officials said. Sixteen people were evacuated and several homes were red-tagged.

“It looks like a river that’s been here for years,” said Keki Mingus, whose neighbors’ homes were damaged. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

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,” said Livingston, whose car was found submerged in mud Monday morning.

Downtown Los Angeles received nearly 7 inches (18 centimeters) of rain by Monday night, which was nearly half the yearly average of 14.25 inches (36 centimeters). It was already the third-wettest two-day period since recordkeeping began in 1877, the service said.

The danger hadn’t passed despite the expected dip in the rainfall, the weather service’s Cohen said.

“The ground is extremely saturated — supersaturated,” he said at a Monday news conference. “It’s not able to hold any additional water before sliding. It’s not going to take much rain for additional landslides, mudslides, rockslides and other debris flows to occur.”

Rainfall amounts on Tuesday “are not going to be quite as heavy as they have been, but still with the ongoing flooding, any additional rain is not welcome,” National Weather Service forecaster Bob Oravec said early Tuesday.

More showers are possible Wednesday and Thursday, Oravec said. “So it doesn’t look like it’s going to be totally in the clear probably until Thursday and into Friday,” he said.

In the Los Angeles area, an evacuation order remained in place for some residents of a canyon area that was scarred by a 2022 fire. The area was at increased risk of mud and debris flows because the area was burned bare of brush and trees that could hold it back, authorities said.

Fires contributed to a tragic 2018 mudslide in Montecito that destroyed 130 homes and killed 23 people, making it one of the deadliest in California history.

The Los Angeles Fire Department said that during this latest bout of bad weather, firefighters had dealt with more than 300 mudslides in addition to more than 100 reports of flooding and rescues of motorists stranded in vehicles on inundated roadways.

Shelters added beds for the city’s homeless population of nearly 75,000 people. Some described their harrowing ordeals.

Tony Sanz spent the night in a city park before seeking higher ground around dawn Monday as floodwaters rose around his tent.

“Boy did it rain last night,” he said Monday afternoon while he hunkered down in a tent layered with tarps on a sidewalk outside a supermarket. He spied the cloudy skies during a break in the downpours and wondered, “Is that it? I hope that’s it.”

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 of Los Angeles, two homeless people were rescued Monday after spending the night on a small island in the Santa Ana River in San Bernardino.

“They were cold and exhausted from a night out stranded on this little patch of dirt that was in the middle of the river,” said Capt. Nathan Lopez of the San Bernardino County Fire Department. A dog and two cats were also saved.

Authorities also reported several spills on Monday, including the discharge of about 5 million gallons (18.9 million liters) of raw sewage in the Rancho Dominguez area surrounding Compton. Most of the untreated sewage went into a channel leading to the Pacific Ocean and the city closed a 7-mile (11-kilometer) stretch of Long Beach to recreational swimming,

Over the weekend, the storm inundated streets and brought down trees and prompted water rescues in the San Francisco Bay area.

Among those who died were two men killed by fallen trees Sunday in Carmichael, a suburb of Sacramento, and in Boulder Creek in Santa Cruz County. Police were investigating the death of another man in Yuba City, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco, who was found under a redwood tree in his backyard Sunday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for most of coastal Southern California and on Monday, President Joe Biden promised to provide any needed federal help.

“We’ll get any help on the way as soon as you guys request it,” he told Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass in a telephone call.