Storm-pummeled California rushes to clean up and start repairs ahead of expected rain resumption

Storm-pummeled California rushes to clean up and start repairs ahead of expected rain resumption

Storm-ravaged California scrambled to clean up and repair widespread damage on Wednesday as heavy rain eased in many areas, although thunder could be seen in the north on Wednesday and another powerful weather front was expected to hit the state on Friday .

At least 17 people have died in the storms that hit the state. The number is likely to rise, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday during a visit to the picturesque Santa Cruz coastal town of Capitola, which was hit hard by high river waters and flooding last week.

More than half of California’s 58 counties were declared disaster areas, the governor said.

The latest storm that hit Monday was one of a series that began late last month, and the damage could cost more than $1 billion to repair, said Adam Smith, a disaster expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. the Los Angeles Times reported.

Crews worked to reopen major highways that were closed by rockslides, flooded or mudslides, while more than 10,000 people who were ordered out of coastal towns on the central coast were allowed to return home.

A tree removal crew removes the large fallen tree blocking a road. It also brought down power lines during another in a series of powerful storms with heavy rain and strong winds that battered California’s Central Coast. This was in Felton on January 10, 2023. Melina Mara / The Washington Post via Getty Images

They included Montecito, an affluent Santa Barbara County community that is home to Prince Harry and other dignitaries, where 23 people died and more than 100 homes were destroyed in a mudslide five years ago.

However, thousands of people living near rain-swollen streams and rivers remained under evacuation orders. In the San Joaquin Valley, raging waters from Bear Creek flooded parts of the town of Merced and neighboring Planada, a small farming community along a highway leading to Yosemite National Park.

All 4,000 residents of Planada were ordered to leave on Tuesday morning. Neighborhoods were under water with cars submerged up to their roofs. Residents ordered to evacuate carried whatever they could salvage on their backs as they fled in the rain.

Other evacuations were ordered due to trash violations in parts of Monterey County. The landfills are privately owned and not maintained by the county, CBS Bay Area reports.

The latest atmospheric river — a long plume of moisture stretching across the Pacific that can drop staggering amounts of rain and snow — has eased in some areas. Light to moderate rain is expected to arrive in Northern California on Wednesday. A longer storm system was forecast to last from Friday until January 17.

An aerial view of the damaged Capitola Pier in Santa Cruz, California on January 10, 2023, as storm surges continued to batter the state. Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Despite the rain, much of the state remained in extreme or severe drought, according to the US Drought Monitor.

The storms may help locally “but they won’t solve the long-term challenges of the drought,” said Rick Spinrad, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Storm damage included washed-out roads and coastal businesses flooded by 20-foot surf that hit Santa Cruz County.

Many areas saw unprecedented amounts of rain accompanied by gusty winds, and even hail and lightning that toppled trees and damaged power lines.

More than 62,000 homes and businesses statewide were without power as of late Tuesday night, according to the website

Landslides damaged several homes in the upscale Los Angeles hills, while further up the coast a sinkhole damaged 15 homes in the rural Santa Barbara County community of Orcutt.

Kevin Costner, winner of best actor in a TV drama series for “Yellowstone,” was unable to attend Tuesday’s Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles because of the weather. Host Regina Hall said she was sheltering in place in Santa Barbara due to flooding.

But the county tweeted Tuesday that all evacuation and shelter-in-place orders had been lifted.

In San Francisco, a tree fell on a commuter bus Tuesday without causing any injuries, and lightning struck the city’s iconic Transamerica Pyramid building without damage. Strong winds also destroyed part of the roof of a large building.

CBS Sacramento reports that parts of the area had a close call when flooding knocked out power to pumping plants.

A small rock rests in the main compartment of a parked vehicle along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California, January 10, 2023. DAVID SWANSON/REUTERS

Some people found themselves trapped in small communities flooded with water and mud.

“We’re all stuck here,” said Brian Briggs, describing a terrifying night during which flooding triggered landslides in remote Matilija Canyon that buried a home and cut off the only road to nearby Ojai. The canyon’s creek began to overflow yards and the surrounding hills, which were stripped of vegetation in the 2017 Thomas Fire, began to fall into darkness.

Mudflows dragged sheds, gazebos and houses into the creek, Briggs said. After helping neighbors get to higher ground, he returned home to find his fence destroyed by waist-deep mud.

A helicopter dropped 10 sheriff’s deputies Tuesday to help residents of dozens of canyon homes.

The small town of Planada, east of San Jose, was evacuated Tuesday morning due to rising waters from a broken levee. “By late morning, street after street was flooded,” said the Los Angeles Times.

The wet and blustery weather left California’s large homeless population in a precarious situation. At least two homeless people in Sacramento County died and more than a dozen people were rescued from a homeless encampment in the Ventura River.

Theo Harris, who has lived on the streets of San Francisco since 2016, fortified his shelter with tarps and ties on Tuesday and took his girlfriend in after her tent flooded.

“The wind has been treacherous, but you just have to bundle up and make sure you stay dry,” Harris said. “Rain is part of life. It’s going to be sunny. It’s going to rain. I just have to lace up my boots and not give up.”

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