Deadly California storm brings evacuations, flooding

California’s deadly storm season got even deadlier on Friday as the first of two atmospheric river storms bore down on the state, prompting widespread evacuation orders as it flooded creeks and rivers and dropped warm rain and heavy above near state record snow.

One person, who has not been identified, was killed when part of a roof collapsed at a coffee distribution warehouse in Oakland, authorities said. He was a worker at the facility, where at least one other employee was injured in the collapse.

The fatality comes after a series of nine consecutive atmospheric river storms in January that contributed to nearly two dozen deaths, including people killed by falling trees and storm water. Heavy snowfall in recent weeks has contributed to at least 13 deaths in the San Bernardino Mountains, where many residents have been trapped for days behind walls of snow.

At least two recent deaths have been confirmed as storm-related, according to Nancy Ward, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The extreme weather resulted in “15 shelters open in nine counties, more than 9,400 people under evacuation orders, approximately 54,000 more people without power, and unfortunately two deaths that have been confirmed so far by the coroner’s office to be tied to the storm so. away,” Ward said Friday.

The Office of Emergency Services has prepared high water vehicles, search and rescue teams, fire resources and other emergency operations to respond to areas most vulnerable to flooding and overflowing rivers, Ward he said.

President Biden approved a request for an emergency declaration by Governor Gavin Newsom, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support state and local responses to the storm.

Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in 34 counties, activating the California National Guard and other state agencies to respond to storm emergencies.

“California is deploying every tool we have to protect communities from the relentless and deadly storms that batter our state,” Newsom said. “In these dangerous and challenging conditions, it is crucial that Californians remain vigilant and follow all guidance from local emergency responders.”

As of Friday, the “Pineapple Express” storm — which is gathering warm, subtropical moisture from Hawaii — made landfall in several communities from the Central Coast to the southern Sierra.

“This is an unprecedented, unparalleled meteorological event that has not been experienced in many decades,” Kris Mattarochia, National Weather Service science and operations officer at Hanford, said during a briefing in Fresno. “There will be high water in areas that are generally not affected. So everyone needs to be ready. … Combined with the melting snow, the Kings River, along with smaller streams like Mill Creek, will be pushed to their limits which are unimaginable.”

More than a dozen locations along the state’s river systems were above flood stage, including portions of the Eel, Russian, Salinas, Carmel, Sacramento, Merced and Cosumnes and Bear Creek rivers, according to the National Weather Service.

Nearly 30 others were above the “monitor stage,” indicating the potential for overtopping and flooding in low-lying areas. Major flash flooding was reported in the Tulare County area of ​​Springville — where officials performed dozens of water rescues Friday morning — and in Kernville, where the roaring Kern River. surrounded some houses and mobile homesspurting year evacuation order.

Similar scenes played out across the state as the powerful storm brought heavy rainfall at a steady clip.

In San Luis Obispo County, emergency crews he saved two people and a dog who were stranded on an island in Paso Robles, officials said. Elsewhere in the county, people sandbagged the doors of low-lying businesses along San Luis Obispo Creek, where choppy brown water continued to rise.

“Hopefully, we’re as ready as we can be,” said Gina Wigney, 27, an employee at a property management company where doors were blocked with sandbags, tarps and wooden barriers.

In January, the river flooded and covered the road, flooding the business. Wigney said the water was about 5 inches deep and damaged furniture and drywall. After that, he helped remove the soaked carpet, which was replaced with a new tile.

The California Department of Transportation asked the public to limit non-essential travel during the peak of the storm in affected areas and to use extreme caution if travel is necessary. As much as a foot of water can sweep a car off the road, the agency warned.

Almost 90 flood watches and warnings were in effect, including emergency flash flood warnings for portions of Tulare, Fresno and San Luis Obispo counties. Evacuation advisories were in effect for dozens of communities as reports of rapidly rising rivers, streams and creeks echoed through.

In Santa Cruz County, the San Lorenzo River crested Friday morning, prompting evacuation orders for Felton Grove, Paradise Park and Soquel Village due to flooding.

“After a while, you have to laugh or you’re going to have horrible mental health,” said Cindi Busenhart, a Soquel resident who was nearly stranded after part of the road near Bates Creek collapsed.

Save for a small wooden walkway, Busenhart and all of his neighbors are largely stuck — unable to drive in or out, depending on friends and relatives on the other side to help transport people, food and goods. .

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take before they can actually, like, fix it. … I mean, the river is just raging,” he said. “It didn’t take a little bit of the road. It took a massive amount of the road out. … There’s no way out.

Santa Cruz County Communications Director Jason Hoppin said emergency operators and county crews were watching the levee system along the rising Pajaro River, which is expected to rise to 21 hours on Friday.

“It’s an old levee,” he said. “And once it gets over 28 feet, we start to get a little nervous about it. So we keep our eyes on it looking for any signs of trouble.”

He said the latest forecast called for the river to rise to 30 feet. If the dam fails, the town of Pajaro — which is in Monterey County — would be most at risk, which is why Monterey has issued evacuation orders for the area, he said.

On the Santa Cruz County side of the river, flooding will likely inundate agricultural fields north of Watsonville.

“So if something happens, there’s a couple of levees that have to go through … so we’re not super worried about the city,” he said. “But we’re worried about the dive, and we’re worried about Pajaro.”

Meanwhile, floodwaters swept through the town of Three Rivers outside Sequoia National Park, according to video shared by the National Park Service, which showed trees partially submerged in white water.

And in Fresno, officials responded to at least 25 weather-related incidents, including a few rescues, California Fire and Forestry Protection Unit Chief Dustin Hail said during a briefing Friday afternoon. .

Among them were three women in the Olympic Valley who were saved after a culvert was washed away and sent water swirling around their home. The county has filled more than 25,000 sandbags for residents, Hail said, and they are going as fast as they are full.

The storm dropped wet terrain and some of the deepest snowpack California has recorded, including historic snowfall in the San Bernardino Mountains. On Friday, residents and officials were bracing for the arrival of rain.

“It just makes the snow heavier,” said Rich Eagan, a spokesman for the county’s incident command team. “It also adds weight to the roofs.”

There have been several falls in the area, and with about an inch of rain forecast for some parts, Eagan said it would be “a miracle” if there were no more.

The state has already seen a roof collapse from the heavy snow, including at a grocery store providing crucial supplies in Crestline. The roof of a Dollar General store in Amador County he collapsed Thursday evening

As warm rain fell lightly but steadily in the Enchanted Valley, helping to melt the record snow, Kim Kuhm said residents were pulling into a volunteer pantry with empty sandbags, waiting to be filled. But instead of sand, there was only snow and ice, he said.

Jacob Barrett worried that water could pool and pour into his home if the rains stopped.

“I took the snowblower, and I made trenches,” he said.

Many of the state’s rivers flooded when January’s atmospheric rivers sent water flowing over dams and onto properties and roads.

Officials hoped to prevent a repeat of that deadly scenario and made strategic releases from the state’s swelling reservoirs to make room for incoming flows. At Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir, officials opened the main lake on Friday afternoon for the first time since April 2019.

The threat will not abate as this storm moves through this weekend. Another atmospheric river is expected to follow next week, and there is a potential for a third around March 19, according to State Climatologist Mike Anderson.

Clovis resident Sheri Sinclair said rain had already started flooding her yard Friday morning. He was taking sandbags from the city, which he planned to put around his house.

“This is unprecedented — a once-in-a-lifetime thing — and we need to heed the warnings,” Sinclair, 62, said.

Sinclair said he has plenty of food and a pump to help empty his garden. But she fears that the storm could be even worse than those in January.

“This is going to hurt,” he said.

Times staff writer Grace Toohey contributed to this report from Lake Arrowhead and San Bernardino. Gomez reported from Fresno, Garrison from Sacramento, James from San Luis Obispo, Rust from Palo Alto and Smith from Los Angeles.

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