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Intense storm hits Southern California with flooding threats

The toll of the storm includes a 5-year-old boy who was swept away by floodwaters and a motorist who died after entering a flooded roadway.

A powerful winter storm barreled into Southern California on Monday, forcing the mass evacuation of Montecito and other communities exactly five years after mudslides in the same area left 23 people dead.

Pounding rain wreaked havoc throughout the coastal counties north of Los Angeles, bringing flooding, road closures and tragedy, including the death of a motorist who entered a flooded roadway and the presumed death of a 5-year-old boy who was swept away by floodwaters in San Luis Obispo County.


The storm, which was expected to move through Los Angeles, Orange and other southern counties through Tuesday, dumped more than 16 inches of rain in some mountain areas Monday and prompted pleas for people to stay indoors.
The National Weather Service called the storm “the most impressive storm since January 5–7, 2005.” A second.

weaker round was expected to hit San Luis Obispo County around dawn, Santa Barbara County at mid-morning, Ventura County mid-to-late morning and Los Angeles County in the late morning or early afternoon. The rain should end by Tuesday evening.

The Tuesday morning incursion could dump rain at up to two-tenths of an inch per hour. That’s “not strong enough to cause problems in of themselves but they will not let the standing water subside and flood warnings continue across the area,” the weather service said. Thunderstorms are likely, especially in San Luis Obispo County and northern Santa Barbara County, which could produce damaging hail and wind gusts, and even the possibility of weak tornadoes should a waterspout come ashore.



“This is not a day to be out doing anything you don’t have to,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.
The storm took aim at Los Angeles County on Monday night, causing widespread street flooding and trapping some people in cars. Firefighters rescued two people after their cars fell down a sinkhole that opened up in Chatsworth. In Ventura County, firefighters rescued a man who was on the roof of his car after it became stuck on a flooded road.
Normally tame creek beds were transformed into raging torrents. Roads were choked with water and debris and, in one case, a person was seen kayaking down a street swamped by windshield-high water.


The powerful storm that knocked out power, toppled trees — including one that killed a toddler — and flooded homes along the coast in Santa Cruz continued its march through the region.


In Montecito, the storm called to mind the devastating January 2018 mudslides that killed 23 people, destroyed 130 homes and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Officials were hoping flood control improvements made in the wake of that event would help better protect communities this week.

On Monday afternoon, Ryan Ausanka-Crues walked about 100 feet from his home on East Valley Road to a bridge over Montecito Creek. The creek was full and roaring, the sound of tumbling boulders emanating from the muddy water.


“I was there a couple of hours ago and took a video,” Ausanka-Crues said. “It’s wild.”
During the 2018 mudslides, his home was spared from damage, but his neighbors’ was not. Still, Ausanka-Crues said he had no plans to leave yet.

“I feel pretty good this year, but you never know,” he said.
Alfredo Garcia, 55, couldn’t find a hotel after he brought his wife, who is battling cancer, from Lompoc to Santa Barbara for a PET scan. By the time they tried to return, the roads were closed.

Garcia was one of the first to arrive at a temporary American Red Cross shelter at Cathedral Oaks School, where he helped set up cots.

“It’s hard for her here,” said Garcia, who left at one point to buy Tylenol for his wife. “But I’m sure there’s other people going through harder than us. We’re blessed someone opened the door for us and gave us shelter here.”
The evacuation in Montecito was largely due to the types of hazards that can come with steep terrain and wildfire burn scars, said Michael Anderson, state climatologist at the California Department of Water Resources.

“When you get heavy rain waves like this, it makes the land more prone to landslides and debris flow,” he said. “And to make sure that we don’t repeat the incidents after the Thomas fire, they wanted to evacuate people from that area.”


In addition to Montecito, the evacuation order applied to residents of Toro Canyon, Padaro Lane from Via Real to Santa Claus Lane and Sycamore Canyon, and all campgrounds from Rincon Beach to Gaviota Beach.

Pounding rain prompted major evacuations Monday in Santa Barbara County, including for all of Montecito as well as surrounding communities.


Another evacuation order was later issued for the Serena Park area due to flooding.

In Santa Barbara, confused tourists and business owners took photos of flooded buildings. A BMW SUV was stranded in 2 feet of water in the middle of Gutierrez Street.

Nearby, in Goleta, the storm forced Rudy Ramirez, 55, and his wife and four sons to ride out the torrent in their truck. The family was returning home to Santa Maria from a vacation in Big Bear when the 101 Freeway shut down, leaving them stranded. Since all hotels were booked, they had no option but to spend the night in the truck.
“I’m not feeling good about it, but we have no other choice. You go on vacation thinking you’re gonna relax. Now look where we are,” Ramirez said with a laugh.

Before heavy rain, power outages, evacuations or other dangerous conditions, prepare yourself, your home and your family. Here’s what you should know.


As of early Tuesday, the storm had dropped eye-popping rainfall totals across the region: 16.34 inches at Nordhoff Ridge in Ventura County, 16.05 inches at San Marcos Pass in Santa Barbara County, and 16.01 inches at Matilija Dam in Ventura County.

Rainfall records were broken at Santa Barbara Airport on Monday, which received 4.22 inches, breaking the record of 2.83 inches set for the same calendar day in 2005. Santa Maria Airport’s 3.42 inches broke the record for the calendar day last set in 1907, when 2.03 inches fell.

In Los Angeles County, Porter Ranch saw 5.85 inches of rain Monday; Woodland Hills, 5.35; Bel-Air, 4.98; Hollywood Reservoir, 4.63; Beverly Hills, 4.35; Alhambra, 4.19; Agoura Hills, 4.16; Calabasas, 3.75; Pasadena, 3.66; La Cañada Flintridge, 3.49; Eagle Rock Reservoir, 3.48; Canoga Park, 3.35; Northridge, 3.19; Van Nuys, 2.81;

downtown L.A., 2.38; and Burbank, 2.29. L.A. County’s mountains received as much as 7.65 inches of rain Monday.
Much of southwestern California was under watches and warnings for floods, high wind and high surf throughout the day, according to the National Weather Service, with many of the advisories stretching into Tuesday.

In Ventura County, evacuations were ordered for the Ventura Beach RV Resort; residences on the south side of Creek Road from Camp Comfort to Highway 33; and the community of La Conchita — where a mudslide killed 10 people in January 2005. Officials also kept a wary eye on the potential for flooding at the Ventura River, which has been the site of homeless encampments.

According to Ventura County Fire Capt. Brian McGrath, 18 people were rescued Monday from islands and areas under bridges along the Ventura River.


In San Luis Obispo County, rescuers called off the search for a 5-year-old boy who was swept away by floodwaters Monday afternoon when conditions became unsafe for divers to continue looking, according to Tony Cipolla, spokesperson for the county Sheriff’s Office.

Firefighters responded to a call about 8 a.m. regarding a vehicle in the San Marcos Creek crossing near Wellsona Road outside of San Miguel, Cipolla said. A mother and her 5-year-old were trying to drive across a road that had been flooded; after the car started to get swept away by the creek, both jumped out.

The mother was rescued by a nearby property owner, but the boy continued down the floodwaters, according to Cipolla, who added that authorities constantly reevaluate conditions and will resume the search if it becomes safe to do so.

Elsewhere in San Luis Obispo County, a motorist died after entering a flooded portion of Avila Beach Drive, according to the California Highway Patrol’s Coastal Division. Evacuations were ordered in several neighborhoods near the Salinas River in Paso Robles.

At least nine rivers across the state could exceed the flood stage Monday, and 32 locations could exceed the flood monitor stage.


The rain shut sections of the 101 Freeway and other thoroughfares throughout the day and forced the closure of Santa Barbara Airport and the cancellation of classes Monday and Tuesday at UC Santa Barbara.


In Santa Maria, about a dozen homes were evacuated after a sinkhole opened up along Union Valley Parkway. On Monday night, officials rescued three people from two vehicles east of Vandenberg Air Force Base in waist-high floodwaters near Highway 135 and Harris Grade Road.



When an evacuation order reaches you, you need to leave. Now. Here’s how to prepare and what to have ready to go if you may need to evacuate during the rainstorms hitting California.


The storm is the result of an of atmospheric river, or warm plumes of airborne moisture from the Pacific Ocean, which is expected to bring two waves of intense rain to Southern California through Tuesday evening, weather experts said.

Another storm is likely this weekend, forecasters say.

The second round of Monday’s storm is predicted to pick up intensity Tuesday morning before tapering off in the evening. Rainfall amounts could total 0.5 to 1 inch of rain across the coasts and valleys and 1 to 3 inches in the foothills and mountains.
Gusts of up to 45 mph are possible across San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
A flood warning was in effect for large sections of Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties Tuesday morning.

Southern California is bracing for another round of powerful and potentially destructive storms this week.

High surf advisories are in effect through 4 p.m. Tuesday for the beaches of Ventura, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, with dangerous rip tides and waves reaching 12 feet in some areas.

Urban and small-stream flooding is likely, said David Sweet, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

The powerful storm that knocked out power, toppled trees — including one that killed a toddler — and flooded homes along the coast in Santa Cruz continued its march through the region.

L.A. County Public Works issued a Phase 2 mud flow forecast for the Fish fire area near Duarte from Monday evening to Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Rain and strong winds were spreading into Orange and southwestern San Bernardino counties Monday, along with gusty south-to-southeast winds. Parts of Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties were under a flood watch through Tuesday evening, and a wind advisory that took effect at 4 p.m. Monday extends until 4 p.m. Tuesday in the inland and coastal areas of Orange County, according to the National Weather Service in San Diego.
While atmospheric rivers can cause flooding and mudslides, many are weak and can provide beneficial rain to drought-stricken California.

The atmospheric river is essentially “draped along the Central Coast,” slamming the area from Monterey County into Santa Barbara County with the heaviest rainfall, with some downpours extending northeast and southwest, Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, said.

“This is just the middle of what has already been a very wet and active pattern — and what is expected to be one, really, for at least another week or so,” Swain said.

Times staff writers Richard Winton, Summer Lin and Hayley Smith contributed to this report. Martinez and Goldberg reported from Santa Barbara County; Money and Petri from Los Angeles.
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Christian Martinez is a Metro reporter covering breaking news at the Los Angeles Times. He previously wrote for the USA Today network of newspapers including the Ventura County Star, where he covered the Thomas and Woolsey wildfires and the Borderline mass shooting, the Spectrum & Daily News in Utah and the Lansing State Journal in Michigan. He was born and raised in Southern California and attended Saint Mary’s College of California.
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Noah Goldberg covers breaking news for the Los Angeles Times. He worked previously in New York City as the Brooklyn courts reporter for the New York Daily News, covering major criminal trials as well as working on enterprise stories. Before that, he was the criminal justice reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle.
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Luke Money is a Metro reporter covering breaking news at the Los Angeles Times. He previously was a reporter and assistant city editor for the Daily Pilot, a Times Community News publication in Orange County, and before that wrote for the Santa Clarita Valley Signal. He earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona.
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Alexandra E. Petri covers trends and breaking news for the Los Angeles Times. She previously covered live news at the New York Times. A two-time reporting fellow with the International Women’s Media Foundation, she graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism and international studies.
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Rong-Gong Lin II is a Metro reporter based in San Francisco who specializes in covering statewide earthquake safety issues and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bay Area native is a graduate of UC Berkeley and started at the Los Angeles Times in 2004.


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