Risk of flooding, mudslides remains after California storm

SAUSALITO, California (AP) — Authorities warned that mudslides were still possible even after a damaging storm moved through California, trapping people in floodwaters, triggering a debris flow that destroyed homes, and forcing residents to flee communities scorched by wildfires last year.

The powerful system swept in from the Pacific Ocean and unleashed rain, snow and wind across the US West into Wyoming and Colorado after walloping Northern California and southern Oregon earlier.

The rain mostly ended on Thursday night. But officials said hillsides could still loosen and collapse, bringing down mud, boulders and debris.

“The ground is still so saturated and the water is still flowing down from the mountains,” said April Newman, spokeswoman for Riverside County Fire Department.

The National Weather Service reported staggering rainfall amounts across California, including more than 24 centimetres over 48 hours at one location in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.

A woman pulled from rising water in a low-lying area between those mountains and Los Angeles had a heart attack and died at a hospital, said Capt Ryan Rolston with the Corona Fire Department. The unidentified woman was one of nine people and three dogs rescued in a flood-control channel where homeless people camp, Rolston said.

Firefighter/paramedic with the Southern Marin Fire Department looks out over the aftermath of a mudslide that destroyed three homes on a hillside in Sausalito, California. – AP

A second death was reported in Escondido, northeast of San Diego, where firefighters recovered the body of a man who had been seen paddle boarding in the surging waters of a concrete-lined flood-control channel.

North of San Francisco, a mudslide barrelled over cars, uprooted trees and sent a home sliding down a hill and smashing into another house in Sausalito.

A woman was rescued from the splintered wreckage with only cuts and bruises. Susan Gordon was buried under a tree and mud for two hours while crew dug her out, her son wrote on an online fundraising page.

Chris Parkman said it has been years since a storm so powerful has hit the hillside community, where at least 50 properties were evacuated.

“We don’t see the rain most of the year. So most of the year you feel safe. But when the big storms come, your safety factor is gone,” he said.

Further north, a levee along State Route 37 near Novato was breached, flooding a rural field. Officials were monitoring the area in case water flows onto the highway or train tracks.

A deluge southeast of Los Angeles washed away a section of a two-lane mountain highway. Photos by the State Department of Transportation showed about 23 metres of pavement completely collapsed along State Route 243 near the remote community of Idyllwild.

“We’re basically stranded right now,” said resident Gary Agner, adding that several other roads were closed because of flooding and debris. “I’m glad I went to the grocery store yesterday.”