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Several California counties ordered to evacuate as deadly storm brews

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A series of deadly and destructive storms continued to batter California on Monday as the drought-stricken state grapples with the sudden onslaught of a very wet January.

Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for California on Sunday, unlocking federal aid to support the recovery as mudslides, clogged rivers and streams and wind-strewn trees wreaked havoc on infrastructure already flooded across the state. The California Department of Water Resources warned that more than a dozen locations were at high risk of flooding.

In Southern California, the entire community of Montecito was ordered to evacuate on Monday, amid a deluge of rain that flooded roads and swelled waterways.

The evacuation order affecting around 10,000 people came on the fifth anniversary of a landslide that killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 homes in the coastal enclave, including that of Oprah Winfrey.

Montecito is home to celebrities such as Winfrey, Rob Lowe and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Ellen Degeneres, who also lives there, posted a video on Twitter standing in front of a raging stream on her property, saying she had been asked to shelter in place.

Montecito is under mandatory evacuation. We are on higher ground so they asked us to shelter in place. Please stay safe everyone. pic.twitter.com/7dv5wfNSzG

— Ellen DeGeneres (@EllenDeGeneres) January 9, 2023

Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor said at least 8 inches of rain fell in 12 hours, with several more inches expected. Canyon communities under evacuation orders sit at the foot of hills that have been burned in recent years by wildfires.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the decision to evacuate was “based on the continued high rate of precipitation with no indication that this will change before dark.”

Tens of thousands of people were left without power and some schools closed for the day. The number of storm-related deaths rose from 12 to 14 on Monday, state officials said.

Paso Robles rescuers had to call off a search for a five-year-old boy who was swept away by floodwaters off California’s central coast. The search for the boy, who was not pronounced dead, was called off around 3 p.m. because the current level and rising waters of the Salinas River were too dangerous for divers, office spokesman Tony Cipolla said. of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff.

The boy’s mother was driving a white truck when it ran aground in floodwaters just before 8 a.m. near Paso Robles, according to CalFire/San Luis Obispo County Fire Department Deputy Chief Tom Swanson .

Passers-by were able to pull the mother out of the truck, but the boy was carried out of the vehicle and carried downstream, Swanson said. There was no evacuation order in the area at the time. A firefighter discovered one of the boy’s shoes, but crews had still not found the child more than five hours later.

State Governor Gavin Newsom released a statement urging residents to practice safety. “We are in the midst of a deadly barrage of winter storms – and California is using every resource at its disposal to protect lives and limit damage,” he said. “We take the threat of these storms seriously and want to make sure Californians remain vigilant as more storms head our way.”

The Capitola Wharf pier has split in two in Aptos, California.
The Capitola Wharf pier has split in two in Aptos, California. Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Storm-weary residents face another round of heavy downpours, high winds and flooding this week, with two new major storms expected to bring heavy rain to the coast and snow to the mountains in the next days.

Relentless thunderstorms over the past 10 days have already killed 12 people, toppled trees and flooded roads, and left thousands of homes and businesses without power. About 139,000 people were without power Monday morning, according to PowerOutage.us, an organization that tracks outages live.

Most of California’s 39 million people could expect heavy rain of up to 5 inches near the coast, more than a foot of snow in the west and wind gusts of up to 65 mph across the state, the National Weather Service said.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said 12 people have died as a result of severe weather in the past 10 days, and he warned that this week’s storms could be even more dangerous. He urged people to stay home and asked Biden to declare a federal emergency to support storm response and recovery efforts.

The City of Sacramento Unified School District canceled school Monday, with six campuses without power, the Sacramento Bee reported. More than 36,000 customers were left without power early Monday, up from more than 350,000 a day earlier after gusts of 60 mph (97 km/h) toppled trees into power lines, according to the Municipal Utilities District of Sacramento.

Evacuation orders were issued Monday in coastal, forested Santa Cruz County for about 32,000 residents living near rain-swollen rivers and streams, said Melodye Serino, the county’s deputy administrative officer.

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

Submerged cars and vineyards in Windsor, California.
Submerged cars and vineyards in Windsor, California. Back-to-back storms have caused widespread flooding in the state. Photography: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The National Weather Service has warned of a “relentless parade of atmospheric rivers” – storms that are long plumes of moisture stretching out into the Pacific and are capable of dropping staggering amounts of rain and snow.

For days, California has been battered by Pacific storms that spawned violent gusts of wind that toppled trees, flooded towns along California’s northern coast and caused a storm surge that destroyed a pier in Santa Cruz.

The first of the latest and strongest storms prompted the Weather Service to issue a flood watch for a wide swath of northern and central California, with 6 to 12 inches of rain expected through Wednesday in the already saturated foothills of the Sacramento area.

In the Los Angeles area, stormy conditions are expected to return on Monday, with the potential for up to 8 inches in foothills areas. Strong waves were expected through Tuesday, with large waves on west-facing beaches.

Since Dec. 26, San Francisco has received more than 10 inches of rain, while Mammoth Mountain, a popular ski area in the Eastern Sierra, has received nearly 10 feet (3 meters) of snow, the National Weather Service reported.

The storms alone won’t be enough to officially end California’s ongoing drought, but they have helped. Statewide, tank storage jumped to 78% of average — a significant gain — but there’s still a long way to go. The good start of the snowpack, which acts as a kind of savings account during drier days, is promising, experts say, but there is no promise of wet weather after these heavy storms.

Michael Anderson, a state climatologist, told a news conference on Saturday that officials were closely watching Monday’s storm and another behind it, and monitoring three other systems farther out in the Pacific.

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