The 2nd in a wave of powerful storms is hammering California Saturday, shutting Key highways after water and mud rushed into lanes from bare hillsides in wildfire burn areas where thousands of residents were under evacuation orders.
Flash flood warnings were issued for huge swaths of Southern California and forecasters said the system brought more than 4 ins of rain at lower elevations and several feet of snow in the mountains, where whiteout conditions closed roads.
A wind gust in Santa Barbara County topped 80 mph as the storm moved south and at one point dropped more than a half-inch of rain in five minutes. Trees and power lines were down across the region.
In Malibu, where the Woolsey fire last year destroyed homes and burned hillsides bare, officials closed Pacific Coast Highway and many other roadways after mud carried trees and rocks into lanes.
Residents whose homes survived the flames barricaded their properties with sandbags to protect their properties from floodwaters.
The California Department of Transportation said Saturday night in a Tweet that the both the northbound southbound lanes of US 101, a Key route between Los Angeles and points north and west, have been reopened. Earlier Saturday, in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara County, several miles of US 101 were closed due to flooding.
Elsewhere in the county, evacuations were ordered or recommended for neighborhoods near the Thomas, Whittier and Sherpa fire scars.
“This is a dangerous situation,” the National Weather Service said, warning that the high rates of rain could send boulders sluicing down denuded hillsides along with the mud and debris.
Rescue crews worked Saturday to pluck motorists from cars caught in rising waters, said a spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. He urged drivers who come upon flooded intersections to find alternate routes.
Multiple accidents were reported on slick highways, including a crash on Interstate 5 that killed a volunteer member of a sheriff’s search and rescue team, and injured several others.
The team from Ventura County was on its way to a training exercise when members stopped to help at the scene of a vehicle rollover crash.
The National Park Service warned visitors to Yosemite National Park of possible road closures and advised drivers to bring tire chains in the event of snow or icy conditions.
Winter storm warnings were in place for the Sierra Nevada along with avalanche warnings on the Nevada side of the range.
The Sierra is already loaded with snow from a series of storms in January. The weather service said areas could see accumulations of up to 10 ft (3 meters) over the next few days.