Southern California Storms Raise Fears Of Mudslides, Trigger Evacuations

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LOS ANGELES (CBSNews) — California residents evacuated neighborhoods below hillsides scarred by wildfires as the third – and largest – in the latest series of storms brought powerful rain Sunday (Jan. 22) and warnings about flash flooding and possible mudslides.

The National Weather Service warned that the system was expected to gain strength throughout the day and could be the strongest in at least seven years.

Flash flood watches and warnings were in effect for swaths of greater Los Angeles, where mountain areas could see more than two inches of rain.

Authorities ordered evacuations near wildfire burn areas in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Orange counties. Officials said potential debris flows could restrict access for emergency responders.

Some residents refused to leave, but Ralph Olivas loaded up his family and their dog and left his home in Duarte, nestled in scenic foothills east of Los Angeles that were left bare by wildfires last June. Recent rain sent rocks down steep streets where homeowners built protective barriers out of lumber and sandbags.

“We’re packing and leaving because the muds are coming, the mudslides,” he told CBS Los Angeles, adding that the risk “comes with the territory living up here.”

In northern Los Angeles County, about 120 residents near burn areas of Santa Clarita were ordered to leave late Saturday (Jan. 21).

During a storm Friday (Jan. 20), raging floodwaters overflowed a creek and sent a sheriff’s cruiser floating down a street.

Craig Herrera, a CBS Los Angeles meteorologist, said the storm moving in from Monterrey Bay is expected to bring between one-to-three inches of rain to the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

Further north, a band of strong thunderstorms lashed the San Francisco Bay Area with heavy rain and hail. Wind gusts brought down trees across Northern California.

In Alameda County, a vehicle crashed into a creek on Sunday (Jan. 21).  The car is believed to be submerged and the driver is unaccounted for, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Facebook page.

In Mendocino County, a massive oak tree toppled onto an apartment in the city of Ukiah early Saturday (Jan. 21), crushing the building and killing a 36-year-old woman as she was asleep in her bed, fire officials told the Press Democrat newspaper of Santa Rosa. The woman’s boyfriend and a 3-year-old boy escaped.

Capt. Pete Bushby of the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority said heavy rain apparently had destabilized the 125-foot oak.

Ukiah Fire Department Photo.

Ukiah Fire Department Photo.

Heavy snow was expected in the Sierra Nevada, which was already blanketed after weeks of storms. The weather service warned of “crippling snow amounts on top of existing snow cover” and urged residents to stock up on food, water and firewood, and “essentially prepare for being stranded at home for multiple days.”

Along the coast, big surf was rolling ashore, and forecasters said waves could build to 30 feet on the Central Coast.

Elsewhere in the West, Nevada, Arizona and Utah expected strong winter storms overnight into Monday.