January 29, 2023

California Floods: All of Montecito under evacuation order

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A 5-year-old boy was swept away by flooding on the state’s central coast Monday and an entire coastal community home to Prince Harry, Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities was placed under lockdown as another powerful storm battered California. The fifth anniversary of the deadly mud there is to be evacuated.

Tens of thousands of people were without power, and some schools were closed for the day. Streets and highways turned into raging rivers, trees fell, mudslides and motorists roared as they hit roadblocks caused by fallen debris. The death toll from the relentless storms rose from 12 to 14 on Monday after two people were killed by falling trees, state officials said.

A nearly seven-hour search for the missing boy turned up only his shoe, before authorities called it off because the waters were too dangerous for divers, officials said. The boy has not been pronounced dead, said Tony Cipolla, a spokesman for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

Cal Fire/San Luis Obispo County Assistant Chief Tom Swanson said the boy’s mother was driving a truck when she was caught in floodwaters around 8 a.m. near the small town of Paso Robles inland from California’s central coast.

Bystanders were able to pull the mother out of the truck, but the boy was dragged out of the vehicle, possibly into a river, Swanson said. There was no evacuation order in the area at that time.

About 130 miles (209 kilometers) to the south, the entire community of Montecito and valleys affected by recent wildfires were under an evacuation order that came on the fifth anniversary of the landslide. It killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 houses along the coast.

In Los Angeles, a sinkhole swallowed two cars in the Chatsworth area Monday night. Two people escaped on their own and firefighters rescued two with minor injuries using ropes and an aerial ladder, officials said.

The National Weather Service recorded rainfall of up to an inch (2.5 centimeters) per hour, with heavy rain expected overnight in the uplands where roads run through tree-lined hillsides lined with large homes. Sandwiched between the mountains and the Pacific, Montecito is home to celebrities including Rob Lowe and Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Ellen DeGeneres shared Instagram video He was standing in front of a raging creek near the Montecito home where he lives with his wife, actor Portia De Rossi. He said in the post that they were told to shelter in place as they were on high ground.

“This is craziness!” the talk show host, wearing a hoodie and raincoat, says in the video. “This stream next to our house never runs. It’s probably nine feet up and going to go up another two feet.

Jamie McLeod’s property was under a Montecito evacuation order, but he said he had no way to “get off the mountain” with a fast-flowing creek on one side and mud on the other. The 60-year-old owner of the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary said one of his employees came to make his weekly food delivery and got stuck.

McLeod said he feels lucky his home sits on higher ground and the power is still on. But he said he was tired of the frequent evacuation orders after the massive wildfires that followed a devastating landslide five years ago.

“It’s not easy to relocate,” McLeod said. “I absolutely love it — except for the disaster.”

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the decision to evacuate nearly 10,000 people was “based on continued high rainfall rates.” Creeks overflowed and many roads were flooded.

The northbound lanes of US 101, a major coastal thoroughfare, were expected to remain closed until Tuesday. Several highways and local roads were closed due to rock slides and flooding.

Along the coast, in Santa Cruz County, evacuation orders were issued for about 32,000 residents living near flooded rivers and creeks. The San Lorenzo River was reported to be at flood stage, and drone footage showed dozens of homes sitting in muddy brown water, with the tops of autos sticking out.

Felton resident Maria Cucciara walked to count her blessings after “a big branch harpooned” the roof of her small studio in minor flooding, she said.

“I have two kittens and we could have been killed. It was over a ton,” she said. “So needless to say, it was very worrying.”

Nicole Martin, owner of Fern River Resort in Felton, described a very quiet scene Monday. As picnic tables and other debris floated down the swollen San Lorenzo, his customers were sipping coffee amid the towering redwoods and “enjoying the show,” he said.

The river is usually about 60 feet (18 meters) below the cabins, Martin said, but it seeped up to 12 feet (4 meters) from the cabins.

In Northern California, several counties closed schools and more than 35,000 customers were without power in Sacramento — more than 350,000 a day after gusts of up to 60 mph (97 kph) toppled majestic trees onto power lines. Among the new deaths reported Monday, a homeless man was killed when a tree fell in the area.

The National Weather Service warned of a “relentless march of atmospheric rivers” — a long stretch of moisture in the Pacific that could reduce the amount of rain and snow. Rain is expected over the next two days after last week’s storms knocked out power, flooded streets and battered coastal areas.

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

The weather service issued a flood watch for much of northern and central California, expecting 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain through Wednesday in the already saturated Sacramento-area foothills.

In the Los Angeles area, up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain is possible in the foothills on Monday and Tuesday. High traffic was also expected.

Much of California is in a severe drought, although storms have helped replenish dry reservoirs.

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Associated Press reporters Johnny Harr and Olga R. in San Francisco. Amy Daxin in Rodriguez, Orange County, Andrew Dalton in Los Angeles, Nick Coury in Aptos, Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz and Haven Daly in Felton contributed to this report.