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Death toll in California storms hits 17 and ‘likely to grow’, says state’s governor

Floods and mudslides forced thousands of people to evacuate as more than 100,000 homes and businesses left without power.

At least 17 people have been killed in California as a relentless string of storms batter the state, turning rivers into gushing flood zones and forcing thousands of people to evacuate from towns with histories of deadly mudslides.

View of where a homeless woman was killed by a falling tree branch at the bank of the Sacramento River.
‘It’s horrifying’: storm deaths of unhoused people highlight California crises
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A catastrophic barrage of storms has caused destruction since late December, with the latest hitting in recent days and more storms on the horizon. Heavy rainfall and winds continued on Tuesday, putting entire communities under flood warnings and evacuation orders, knocking out power to tens of thousands and causing hillsides to collapse.

The entire seaside community of Montecito – home to Prince Harry, Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities – was ordered to flee on the fifth anniversary of a mudslide that killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 homes in the coastal enclave.

State officials confirmed the official death toll in a briefing on Tuesday afternoon with the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, saying that figure was “likely to grow”. A five-year-old was still missing after being swept away by floodwaters in Paso Robles, Newsom said, asking state residents to “just pray for a miracle” that the child be found alive.

The boy was driving with his mother when their truck became stranded near Paso Robles. A roughly seven-hour search for the missing boy turned up only his shoe before it was called off as water levels were too dangerous for divers, officials said.

Tens of thousands of California residents were under evacuation orders on Tuesday, Newsom said, and more than 100,000 were without power.

At least 17 people have died from storms that began late last month, said Wade Crowfoot, the California natural resources secretary. The deaths included a pickup truck driver and motorcyclist killed on Tuesday morning when a eucalyptus tree fell on them on Highway 99 in the San Joaquin Valley near Visalia, the California highway patrol said.

Elsewhere, a woman died after her vehicle was caught in floodwater in San Luis Obispo on Monday, according to local media reports.

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What’s causing the California deluge?
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In Sacramento, the state capital, local residents and family members were mourning the deaths of two unhoused people who were killed over the weekend when trees fell onto the tents where they were sleeping in. Relatives and friends said their deaths highlighted the needs for thousands of more beds in local warming centers to protect unhoused residents during the coming storms, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The latest storm, which began on Monday, dumped more than a foot of rain at higher elevations in central and southern California and buried Sierra Nevada ski resorts in more than 5ft (1.5 meters) of snow. Rockfalls and mudslides shut down roads, and gushing runoff turned sections of freeways into waterways.

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