Major flooding, mudslides and deadly winds as biggest storm in years barrels into L.A. area
A storm that forecasters billed as the most powerful in years barreled into Southern California on Friday, flooding multiple freeways, triggering dramatic mudslides and downing hundreds of trees and power lines.
The storm arrived with wind gusts that topped 80 mph in some parts of Los Angeles County and intense bursts of heavy rain, a potent combination that at one point Friday evening had more than half a dozen major freeways and highways around the region closed.
The deluge created surreal scenes: Cars trapped by rising waters along the 5 and 110 freeways, churning mudflows ripping through canyon and high-desert roads, and a massive landslide in the San Bernardino Mountains captured on video.
A lane on Interstate 15 failed at the Cajon Pass, leaving a fire engine dangling over the side of the road. Officials said all firefighters got out safe but that the engine eventually went over the side. Two cars fell into a sinkhole in the San Fernando Valley.
To the north in Santa Barbara County, communities were battered by up to an inch of rain an hour, turning the Santa Barbara Airport into a lake with small aircraft playing the role of boats. The airport set a daily rainfall record with 3.75 inches, one of several records established Friday.
At least two fatalities were attributed to the storm.
A 55-year-old man was electrocuted by a downed power line Friday in Sherman Oaks on Sepulveda Boulevard just south of Burbank Boulevard.
In Victorville, where many motorists were stranded on flooded streets, rescuers found a person dead inside a submerged vehicle, according to the San Bernardino County Fire Department.
In a sign of the power of the winds, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to more 150 reports of downed wires. Authorities urged the public to stay away from power lines and avoid touching any person or thing that has come into contact with one.
More than 100,000 people across Southern California lost power.
There were also multiple swift-water rescues. Several homeless people were rescued along the Los Angeles River, while in the Inland Empire, firefighters plucked motorists stranded in floodwaters.
Evacuation orders were issued for areas where brush fires hit last summer, with officials worried about the potential for mudslides. Among the areas evacuated was a section of Duarte.
For much of the day, more than 100 residents decided to stay indoors despite the city of Duarte's evacuation order, according to deputies who were going door to door asking residents who remained to sign a waiver.
As light rain fell on Alex Alarcon’s baseball cap, the Duarte resident spoke about why he decided to stay in his home despite the evacuation order.
He had left work early Friday morning and planned to spend the night at a hotel with his wife, two children and dogs but decided against it when he noticed around 1 p.m. that the rain wasn't coming down as hard as he had initially thought.
Alarcon, who has lived in the area for six years, said that his home, at Larkhall Avenue and Deerlane Drive in Duarte, had mudslides not too long ago.
“I had mud sticking to the sidewalk right near my house,” he said, pointing to an area around his mailbox.
But Alarcon said he wasn’t too worried about Friday’s storm. He and his family felt content staying home.
By Friday night, the street adjacent to Valley View Elementary School was overflowing with mud, rock and other debris. But homes that lined the street appeared to be unharmed by the slow-moving mudslide thanks to concrete and wood barriers that the city erected after fires made the area vulnerable.
As night fell, Austin Fuentes and his mother, Susan, heard the mudslide outside their front door.
"When we started getting heavy rain, we heard the mud flowing outside our house. You hear rocks tumbling and water rushing," he said. "We're just crossing our fingers we don't have to clean up much more mud.”
Fuentes' father and grandparents evacuated and are staying at a hotel tonight just to be on the safe side.
"My grandparents have heart issues and we felt it was safer for both of them not to be here," Fuentes added.
In the San Bernardino County mountains, a landslide the size of three football fields threatened several homes, a fire station and a major road used by hundreds of residents, fire officials said.
Four homes and a San Bernardino County fire station in the unincorporated community of Forest Falls were directly in the path of the hillside, which started moving about 10 a.m. Thursday, fire spokesman Eric Sherwin said.
Two homes were vacant, and residents in the other two homes voluntarily evacuated. Fire officials have removed equipment from the station to protect it from damage, he said.
The landslide was 300 yards wide and extended 1,000 feet from top to bottom in the Slide Canyon area, according to Sherwin.
Like a calving glacier, pieces of the hillside have been slowly breaking off and dropping into a drainage below.
“It’s a lot of material,” he said, “but it has a long time to come down.”
But firefighters worried that Friday’s powerful storm could hasten the process.
The hillside — a mixture of snow, rock, soil and timber — could spill onto Valley of the Falls Drive — a major road for residents living in the area, trapping a couple of hundred people for several days, Sherwin said.
San Bernardino County road crews were placing concrete barriers along the drive to help divert mud and debris, he said.
Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights in and out of California because of the weather.
About 250 of the airline’s flights to or from Burbank, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco and San Diego, among others, were canceled Friday, an airline spokesperson said.
American Airlines also canceled a host of flights to and from Orange County, and the aviation website flightaware.com reported 48 cancellations at LAX.
Trains serving Union Station were delayed Friday evening due to storm activity.
The storm, part of a warm “atmospheric river,” is swollen with moisture and poised to pour rain onto burn-scarred areas in local mountains and foothills.
Between 2 and 6 inches of rain can be expected to fall, depending on the area, before the storm moves out Saturday.
Snow levels were anticipated to be 8,000 feet Friday night, lowering to 6,000 feet on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Because of the heavy precipitation, 1 to 2 feet of snow could fall above 8,000 feet in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and 6 to 12 inches above 6,000 feet.
Coastal waters will be dangerous through the weekend, Hoxsie said. High waves off the coast of Los Angeles County are expected to peak Saturday at 8 to 13 feet.
After a brief respite Sunday, another storm system is expected to move into the region early next week, bringing several more days of rain, forecasters said.
While hillside areas contended with mudslides, coastal areas were battered by high surf and flooding. Many beaches were closed as a safety precaution, and officials were monitoring the structural integrity of piers and other structures.
In Huntington Beach, a portion of Pacific Coast Highway was flooded out
Newport Beach officials closed Back Bay Drive between San Joaquin Hills Road and Eastbluff Drive as a precaution Friday afternoon just as the storm was beginning to hit at full strength.
“As soon as it starts to rain, water, mud and rocks run out onto the street,” said George Murdoch, the city’s general manager for utilities. “It’s just a preventative measure, since we know we’re going to get hit.”
The 101 Freeway at Seacliff in Ventura County was closed for hours as mud flowed onto the highway.
There were some beneficiaries in all the rain.
In downtown Los Angeles, Uber driver John Kim anticipated extra business from people not wanting to walk even short distances in the rain.
“It's good for me,” he said. “So much rain, I get busy.”
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