Sinkholes swallowed cars whole, and floodwaters swamped already soggy towns and swept away a young as California was slammed by continuing wild winter weather, with the next powerful string of storms looming offshore Tuesday.
Millions of residents in the state faced flood warnings, and almost 50,000 people were under evacuation orders. A further 110,000 businesses and homes were without power because of hail, lightning, landslides, and heavy rains.
Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom said at least 17 people have died from the storms that began in late December. During a visit to the storm-damaged town of Capitola on the Santa Cruz coast, Newsom said, “We’ve had less people die in the last two years of major wildfires in California than have died since New Year’s Day related to this weather. These conditions are serious, and they’re deadly.”
The most recent storm, which began Monday, dumped over a foot and a half of rain in the Southern California mountains and covered the ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada with more than five feet of snow.
Landslides and rockfalls shut down roads with unrelenting runoff turning sections of roadways into waterways. Neighborhoods in multiple areas of the state were underwater, with cars submerged up to their roofs. Evacuated residents carried whatever they could save on their backs as they left amid pelting rain.
Newsom calls the state’s drought to flood conditions “weather whiplash”
Newsom said the storms have created “weather whiplash,” with the state swinging from an epic years-long drought to intense flooding, predicted to last well into next week. Although most of the state remains in severe or extreme drought, California said the snowpack is more than double the average.
“It’s fair to say that what we’re seeing right now in California will certainly help to relieve some of the localized aspects of drought but will not resolve the long-term drought challenges,” said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator, Rick Spinrad.
The latest atmospheric river began easing in some areas Tuesday. Still, additional rain was forecast to make landfall in Northern California as part of a long plume of moisture stretching into the Pacific Ocean from Friday through January 17.
The flooding and squalls have forced school cancellations in some areas, with sections of roadways intermittently shut down because of being blocked by rocks, trees, and landslides.
Amtrak stopped train routes between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo due to weather, as waters flooded the main concourse at Los Angeles’ historic Union Station.
On one Los Angeles street, a sinkhole swallowed two cars, trapping two motorists who then had to be rescued by a crew of firefighters.
In the affluent seaside community of Montecito, located 80 miles north of Los Angeles, evacuation orders were lifted for around 10,000 people, including Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry, and other celebrities. The community was ordered to evacuate on the fifth anniversary of a mudslide that destroyed more than 100 homes and killed 23 people.