California storms bring fear of devastating mudslides

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A year after a mudslide swept through a fire-devastated California town, killing 21 people, residents of hundreds homes in burn areas were told to pack up and leave as a Pacific storm threatened potential catastrophe.

In Riverside County east of Los Angeles, mandatory evacuations were ordered on Monday for a dozen areas around the Holy Fire, which swept through an enormous swath of the Cleveland National Forest and surrounding areas last August.

“People in these zones MUST GO NOW. Rainstorms carry the potential for dangerous debris flows that can send mud, boulders and trees crashing down hillsides” with little or no warning, a county statement said.

The evacuation was later downgraded to voluntary but authorities urged people to stay alert because of continuing rain forecasts.

In Santa Barbara County on the central coast, evacuation orders took effect at 10am yesterday for areas hit by the Sherpa, Whittier and Thomas fires.

“Gather family members, pets, and essential items,” a county statement said. A debris flow could also make roads impassable and strand people near the evacuation areas, especially in Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria, the county warned.

After a devastating fire that burned and destabilised foothills, Montecito was hit by a powerful storm on January 9, 2018, that sent water, mud and boulders sluicing down creeks and canyons. Twenty-three people died and over 100 homes were destroyed.

A skiploader clears a river of mud that flowed onto Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California. – AP