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Evacuations Ordered in Montecito as Storms Lash California

The rain caused flooding in downtown Los Angeles and beyond. California’s Central Coast appeared to be the hardest hit area after the latest waves of moisture known as atmospheric rivers.

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By Jill Cowan, Victoria Kim and Mike Ives
CARPINTERIA, Calif. — As rain lashed Southern California on Monday night, parts of Los Angeles County experienced flooding — an unusual twist for a typically dry, sunny place where people tend to worry about droughts.
A flash flood warning for southwestern Los Angeles County that had been issued before 7 p.m. expired early Tuesday. The warning affected nearly 8 million of the more than 10 million residents in the county, the most populous in the United States.

The full extent of flooding in the Los Angeles area was not immediately clear in the predawn hours of Tuesday morning. California’s Central Coast, where officials had ordered evacuations on Monday in a coastal enclave of Santa Barbara County, appeared to be the hardest hit area of a state that has been battered in recent weeks by powerful waves of moisture, known as atmospheric rivers.

But the Weather Service had warned on Monday evening that downtown Los Angeles, Malibu, Hollywood and Beverly Hills were among the places that would experience flash flooding. And as more than an inch of rain fell in some areas of the county that night, early images showed cars partially submerged by floods near downtown. The Los Angeles Fire Department also told an NBC affiliate that firefighters had rescued two people who were trapped inside a vehicle at the bottom of a sinkhole that opened in the Chatsworth area, north of downtown L.A.

And at Los Angeles International Airport, a so-called ground stop issued shortly after 8 p.m. by the Federal Aviation Administration slowed the pace of takeoffs and landings for about an hour amid high winds, said Victoria Spilabotte, a spokeswoman for the airport.

“That usually happens at airports across the country, but we don’t often have a ground stop, mostly because Los Angeles has pretty good weather year round,” she said. “So this type of storm is not typical for us.”
More bad weather was in the forecast. The Weather Service said early Tuesday morning that as the heavy precipitation in Southern California was beginning to taper, a new and “energetic” low-pressure system was gathering strength offshore.

Heavy precipitation was expected across much of the state on Tuesday, and parts of Southern California could see up to seven inches of rain over the next few days, the agency said. “The one good aspect of the recent heavy rains has been relief from the persistent drought that has been plaguing large portions of the West,” it added.

The flooding in Los Angeles on Monday night capped a frantic day in Santa Barbara County, where officials ordered thousands of residents to quickly evacuate the coastal enclave of Montecito amid fears of mudslides in an area where wildfires have made soils and vegetation less stable.

Up to a foot of rain was expected to soak Montecito’s already drenched hillsides. And the evacuation orders were issued five years to the day that a deadly torrent of mud and boulders rushed through neighborhoods in that mansion community, killing 23 people and turning it into a disaster area.

“We’re in the midst of a series of significant and powerful storms,” Sheriff Bill Brown of Santa Barbara County said in a briefing. “Currently, we’re experiencing a storm that is causing many problems and has the potential to cause major problems across our county, especially in the burn scar areas.”

Five-day precipitation
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Notes: Estimates are for Jan. 11 at 4 a.m. Pacific time to Jan. 16 at 4 a.m. Forecast is as of 1:43 a.m. on Jan. 10. Values are in inches of water or the equivalent amount of melted snow and ice.

By Zach Levitt
Late Sunday, President Biden approved an emergency declaration for 17 counties in California, allowing for federal assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security in relief and rescue efforts.

Elsewhere along the Central Coast, one person was killed by floodwater while trying to navigate a submerged road in San Luis Obispo County, north of Santa Barbara, officials said on Monday. A 5-year-old boy remained missing. Residents were evacuated from numerous communities because of flood risks as their streets turned into gushing streams.

At the Best Western Plus Carpinteria Inn, several miles southeast of Montecito, a steady stream of people clad in rain gear pulled up in SUVs packed with luggage and provisions. Some who had evacuated said they were surprised to be among those ordered to leave because their homes were not in burn scars, areas hit by wildfire that are made more susceptible to landslides.

In the 2018 storm that led to the devastating mudslide, officials had issued mandatory evacuation orders for about 7,000 residents in Montecito and voluntary ones for another 23,000, but many disregarded them because they had just returned home after being forced to leave during a wildfire.

Montecito is a popular haven for celebrities, including Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex; Oprah Winfrey; and Ellen DeGeneres, who posted a video on Twitter of a raging creek behind her house that she said “never flows, ever.”

“We need to be nicer to Mother Nature because Mother Nature is not happy with us,” Ms. DeGeneres said.
Evacuation orders were also in place in neighboring Ventura County, including in the tiny community of La Conchita, the site of a 2005 landslide around the same time of year that killed 10 people.

In Santa Cruz County, about 70 miles south of San Francisco, more than 30,000 residents were placed under evacuation orders as creeks and rivers topped their banks, threatened homes and washed away at least one bridge. Mudslides blocked two highways in the Santa Cruz Mountains that connect the region to the San Francisco Bay Area.
The flooding in the county besieged an area already reeling from some of the heaviest damage from recent storms. Just last week, the confluence of a storm surge, high tides and high surf collapsed piers and flooded hundreds of homes and businesses.

The storm’s impacts continued farther south along the state’s Central Coast, with evacuation orders along rivers in Watsonville and Monterey County.

Numerous roads were closed amid flash-flood warnings in San Luis Obispo County, where the 5-year-old boy remained missing after he and his mother escaped from a car that was starting to be swept away by floodwaters. His mother, who had been driving him to school around 8 a.m., was rescued by nearby residents, but the boy was carried away by waters coursing down a rising creek, said Tony Cipolla, public information officer with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

Divers with the agency’s underwater search and rescue team scoured the nearby waters for hours, but had to call off the search around 3 p.m. when the rising waters and rapid current made it too dangerous, he said.
Rivers and creeks in the area were gushing like they hadn’t in decades, said Scott Jalbert, the county’s emergency services manager. “They’re pretty monstrous,” he said.

California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo shut down for the day. The university reported that students, faculty and animals were being evacuated from agricultural facilities with a reservoir about to breach.
In the nearby town of Santa Margarita, Tamara Snow Nyren said that for all her preparations the night before — building a fort of sandbags all around her home — she was not ready for Monday’s flooding.

“My God, I look out the window to my alley, and I saw a river coming down my alley,” she said.
Jill Cowan reported from Carpinteria, Calif., Victoria Kim from San Francisco and Mike Ives from Seoul. Katya Cengel contributed reporting from Grover Beach, Calif.

 

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