Rain to persist as storm-weary Californians face evacuations

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The latest in a relentless string of storms slammed California on Monday, swamping roads, battering coastlines with high surf, turning rivers into gushing flood zones and forcing the evacuation of thousands in towns with histories of deadly mudslides.

The National Weather Service said rain was expected to continue through Tuesday after dumping up to 14 inches at higher elevations in central and Southern California. After a brief respite, another storm was expected to barrel into the state in a few days, adding to the misery and further saturating areas already at threat of flooding and debris flows.

The storms left a legacy of chaotic roads, threatened coastal and riverside towns and left tens of thousands without power. The weather service issued a flood watch through Tuesday for the entire San Francisco Bay Area, along with Sacramento Valley and Monterey Bay. Areas hit by wildfires in recent years faced the possibility of mud and debris slewing off denuded hillsides that have yet to fully recover their protective layer of vegetation.

“Additional heavy rains on Tuesday will exacerbate ongoing flooding and continue the risk of flash flooding and mudslides, especially across recent burn scar regions,” the weather service said.

Forecasters also warned southwestern California could see 60-mph wind gusts at the peak of the storm, while some areas could receive rainfall of a half-inch per hour.

The death toll from the relentless string of storms that began last week climbed from 12 to 14 on Monday, after two people including a homeless person were killed by falling trees, state officials said.

California state highway authorities said late Monday night that parts of U.S. and state highways were closed because of flooding, mud or rockslides, heavy snow or car spinouts and truck crashes. The closures included northbound lanes of U.S. 101, a key coastal route, and sections of U.S. 6 and State Route 168.

Evacuation orders were issued in Santa Cruz County for about 32,000 residents living near rain-swollen rivers and creeks. The San Lorenzo River was declared at flood stage and drone footage showed numerous homes sitting in muddy brown water, the top halves of autos peeking out.

A 5-year-old boy vanished in floodwaters Monday on the central coast. The boy’s mother was driving a truck when it became stranded in floodwaters near Paso Robles. Bystanders managed to pull her free but the boy was swept out of the truck and carried away, probably into a river, said Tom Swanson, assistant chief of the Cal Fire/San Luis Obispo County Fire Department.

A roughly seven-hour search for the missing boy turned up only his shoe before officials called it off as water levels were too dangerous for divers, officials said. The boy had not been declared dead, said spokesperson Tony Cipolla of the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

About 130 miles to the south, about 10,000 people were ordered to evacuate in Santa Barbara County.

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.

County officials ordered 20 homes evacuated in the area of Orcutt after flooding and a sinkhole damaged up to 15 homes.

Jamie McLeod’s property was under the Montecito evacuation order, but she said there was no way for her to “get off the mountain” with a rushing creek on one side and a mudslide on the other. The 60-year-old owner of the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary said one of her employees came to make a weekly food delivery and also became stuck.

McLeod said she feels fortunate because her home sits on high ground and the power is still on. But she tires of the frequent evacuation orders since the massive wildfire followed by the deadly landslide five years ago.

“It is not easy to relocate,” McLeod said. “I totally love it, except in catastrophe.”

Ellen DeGeneres shared an Instagram video of herself standing in front of a raging creek near the Montecito home where she lives with her wife, actor Portia de Rossi. She said in the post that they were told to shelter in place because they are on high ground.

“This is crazy,” the talk show host, wearing a hoodie and raincoat, says in the video.

Some miles down the coast another town, La Conchita in Ventura County, was ordered evacuated. A mudslide killed 10 people there in 2005.

In Ventura County, the Ventura River reached its highest level on record at more than 25 feet. Firefighters using helicopters rescued more than a dozen people trapped on an island in the surging waters.

The storm also washed 3 feet of mud and rock onto State Highway 126, stranding a long line cars and big-rig trucks. Crews worked into the night to pull them free.

In Los Angeles, a sinkhole swallowed two cars in the Chatsworth area on Monday night. Two people escaped by themselves and firefighters rescued two others who had minor injuries, authorities said.

Tens of thousands of people were without power, including some 17,000 late Monday night in the Sacramento area. The number of customers without service was down from more than 350,000 a day earlier after 60-mph gusts knocked majestic trees into power lines, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District said.

The National Weather Service warned of a “relentless parade of atmospheric rivers” — long plumes of moisture stretching out into the Pacific that can drop staggering amounts of rain and snow. The precipitation expected over the next couple of days comes after storms last week knocked out power, flooded streets, and battered the coastline.

President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration Monday to support storm response and relief efforts in more than a dozen counties.

Much of California remains in severe to extreme drought, though the storms have helped fill depleted reservoirs.