Calif. Mudslides Force Thousands to Evacuate, Kill 13
San Francisco Chronicle
Jan. 10—The fire-ravaged slopes of Wine Country managed to hold firm under this week's deluges through early Tuesday evening, but in Southern California the rains broke loose mudslides and flooding that killed more than a dozen people and forced thousands to flee in fear.
Evacuations were ordered for neighborhoods below canyons scorched by last month's Thomas Fire, which burned over 281,890 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, making it the largest wildfire in modern California history.
In areas near Montecito (Santa Barbara County), at least 13 people died, 25 were injured and multiple homes were leveled Tuesday due to the extreme weather conditions, said Amber Anderson, a spokeswoman for Santa Barbara County. A 14-year-old girl was pulled out of a home destroyed in Montecito after being trapped for hours, officials said.
Elsewhere in Santa Barbara County, firefighters rescued 50 people stuck in floodwaters and debris, according to officials there.
In San Bernardino County, 911 dispatchers received multiple calls that people were stranded on small islands and in trees in river bottoms, according to the county Sheriff's Department. At least five people were retrieved by air rescue.
Throughout the southern fire region, the mudslides and floodwaters kept crews hopping as they worked to clear downed power lines, fallen trees and blocked roadways, including Highway 101 in Santa Barbara.
Lingering showers and thunderstorms with moderate to heavy rain were expected to continue throughout the day in Southern California, according to the National Weather Service.
In the North Bay, officials have been on guard all week for possible disasters in the charred landscape of October's sweeping fires, where 44 people died and nearly 9,000 structures were leveled.
By early Tuesday evening, there were no reports of any issues in the fire zone beyond a few minor rock slides in areas near the Sonoma County coast, said Anna Schneider, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Emergency crews were on call overnight, standing guard over the burn areas to ensure that no major slides or floods threatened homes, said Adriane Mertens, a spokeswoman for the city of Santa Rosa.
Officials from the water, transportation and public works departments will continue to closely monitor the burn areas, Mertens added.
"We are prepared for the next time a rainstorm comes to town," Mertens said—and more rain, though light, is expected Wednesday.
Elsewhere in the Bay Area, San Francisco had the 16th wettest day on record Monday with 3.64 inches of rain in nearly 24 hours—which broke the same-day record of 2.36 inches set in 1872, said Schneider.
Roadways and public transportation systems throughout the Bay Area were chaotic as crews worked to deal with the fallen debris, collisions and equipment issues throughout the morning commute.
Major delays were reported at various BART stations throughout San Francisco and the East Bay due to equipment problems, officials said.
One of the worst crashes of the commute happened when a wrong-way driver caused a four-car crash on Interstate 880 in Milpitas just before 5 a.m., according to the California Highway Patrol. Three lanes of the highway were shut down while the crash was being cleared, turning the commute there into a forehead-pounding ordeal.
The wrong-way driver died of his injuries, officers said. Several others involved in the crash were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.
Among the many other traffic snarls, a rock slide blocked the roadway in the morning near Highway 116 and Riverside Drive in Santa Rosa, CHP officers said.
In Solano County, a motorist driving east on Interstate 80 near the Interstate 680 connector crashed after sliding down an embankment, according to the CHP. And in San Jose, traffic was snarled when several boulders fell onto the southbound lane of Highway 9 near Redwood Gulch Road. A rock slide also blocked a lane on the Old Santa Cruz Highway near Idylwild Road in San Jose.
All of the commute road obstructions were cleared by midday, officials said.
In Palo Alto, the storm caused equipment damage to the local electrical system, including broken insulators and singed wires, resulting in power outages for about 1,800 customers, said Catherine Elvert, a spokeswoman for Palo Alto Utilities.
Power was restored for everyone by about 9 a.m., Elvert said.
The Oregon Expressway undercrossing at Alma Street in Palo Alto was shut down due to flooding, according to the Palo Alto Police Department. There was no estimated time for when the expressway would reopen.
In all, Santa Rosa received nearly 3 inches of rain between Monday morning and Tuesday morning. Kentfield had the most amount of rain with 5.44 inches during that period, Schneider said. Oakland received 2.89 inches.
What this indicates is that after an unusually dry December, the Bay Area is starting to make its way toward normal rainfall totals for the season, according to the National Weather Service.
San Francisco's rainfall was at 72 percent of what it would normally be during the rainy season, which began in the fall. Just a week ago, San Francisco was only at 37 percent of what's considered normal for the time period, according to the National Weather Service.
Schneider said there is a chance of more rain throughout the Bay Area Wednesday. But the showers would only bring a few hundredths of an inch to the entire region, Schneider said.
"It would be widespread, but it would be very weak showers," she said.