Southern California braces for potential mudslides as rain continues

A fierce atmospheric river storm that has been battering California for days began to ease in Los Angeles on Tuesday, but officials warned that even small amounts of additional rainfall could trigger landslides in rain-soaked Southern California.

Between Sunday and Tuesday morning, the storm dumped record amounts of rain on the Los Angeles Basin and prompted millions of residents to stay indoors to avoid potential hazards. By Tuesday, Los Angeles officials had counted more than 380 mudslides and 35 damaged structures in the city, many of them in the hills above Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Seven of those buildings were deemed no longer safe to enter.

The atmospheric river intensified south of Los Angeles by Tuesday morning and was dumping precipitation on Orange, San Diego and San Bernardino counties. National Weather Service warned potential for flash flooding in Anaheim, Newport Beach and Santa Ana.

In less than 48 hours, the storm dumped as much as a third of a year’s worth of rainfall in parts of Orange County, said Elizabeth Adams, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s San Diego office. She said the rain is not expected to stop until the weekend, and another storm system is moving into the region on Wednesday.

“We’re just going to have a lot more rain over the next few days,” Ms Adams said.

In Los Angeles, where the storm was weakening, showers are likely to continue into the evening, with a chance of rain on Wednesday, said Ariel Cohen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Los Angeles.

Mr. Cohen said the soil was extremely saturated after what he said was one of the wettest storm systems to hit the greater Los Angeles area since records began. He warned Angelenos to stay alert Tuesday, even if the sky looks bluer.

“This is not the time to let our guard down,” Mr Cohen said at a press briefing on Tuesday morning. “Because the ground is so saturated, oversaturated in fact—with six to 12 inches of rain across the region—it will take very little additional rain to trigger landslides, mudslides and other debris flows. Everyone needs to be on high alert.”

There must have been dozens of people all over Southern California retrieved from the floodwaters and raging seas, including one man in Los Angeles County who jumped into the raging Los Angeles River to try to save his dog. In the Baldwin Hills neighborhood, an avalanche of mud tore through the bedroom of a home.

But overall, the region didn’t suffer the worst of the flooding and other impacts it was bracing for, said Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath.

“Instead, the damage was more than 1,000 cuts — sinkholes, downed trees, areas of erosion,” she said at a news conference Monday night.

Firefighters evacuated 16 people in a Studio City neighborhood Monday after two homes on Lockridge Road sustained significant damage from debris sent rushing through the area by the storm.

On Monday morning, residents walked down the street in an almost dazed way, looking at the piles of mud and the jumble of stones strewn across the road. Ankle-deep water gushed down the hill, carrying bits of debris with it. Some residents of tree-lined streets near Lockridge Road shoveled mud that had collected in their driveways as city maintenance trucks drove back and forth, trying to clear the road.

Elsewhere in Los Angeles, residents tentatively returned to the world on Monday, spraying through intersections where water had accumulated. Although officials urged people to stay off the roads, nearly all campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District remained open, and classes were expected to resume Tuesday.

In Northern California, residents were still recovering from damage caused by strong winds that topped 90 miles per hour in some locations on Sunday. At one point, more than 850,000 businesses and homes were without power as winds downed power lines and damaged other electrical equipment, in what Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, said Sunday ranked among the top three days of outages ever caused storms.

The winds also became deadly. A 41-year-old man in the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael, a 63-year-old woman in the Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks and an 82-year-old man in Yuba City, north of Sacramento, were killed when trees fell into their yards. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, a 45-year-old man was killed when a tree fell on his home on Sunday. Four deaths are the only fatalities from the storm so far.

During a press briefing Monday night, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass stepped aside to take a call from President Biden. When she returned to the podium, she held her cell phone next to the microphone while the president was still on the other end. On speakerphone, Mr. Biden called the city’s efforts “one hell of an operation” and said he had just spoken with Governor Gavin Newsom.

“We will get any help on the road as soon as you ask for it,” Mr. Biden said. “Just let me know. That’s why I’m calling.”

Jill Cowan contributed reporting from Los Angeles.

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