February 29th, 2024

Rare tornado warning issued for San Diego County as historic storm still threatens California

By John Antczak And Julie Watson, The Associated Press on February 6, 2024.

LOS ANGELES (AP) – One of the wettest storms in Southern California history unleashed more than 300 mudslides in the Los Angeles area after dumping more than half of the city’s seasonal rainfall in just two days, and officials warned Tuesday that the threat hadn’t passed yet.

The storm continued to pose new hazards Tuesday, with the National Weather Service issuing a rare tornado warning for inland parts of San Diego County until 12:15 p.m., including cities Chula Vista and National City, south of San Diego, and the eastern suburb of El Cajon.

Officials expressed relief that the storm hadn’t killed anyone or caused a major catastrophe in Los Angeles so far despite its size and intensity, though three people were killed in Northern California after the storm came ashore over the weekend with strong winds that toppled trees.

Mayor Karen Bass thanked residents for heeding calls to stay off Los Angeles’ roads, and she urged people to continue doing so through the end of Tuesday, when the rain was expected to stop.

“Los Angeles can handle very big challenges. And if we stick together, we will come out so far ahead,” she said.

The slow-moving storm that blew into the city over on Sunday and then parked itself could still produce fierce downpours of up ton an inch (roughly 2.5 centimeters) of rain in an hour, the weather service said. That could be particularly precarious since the soil is already saturated after back-to-back atmospheric rivers walloped California in less than a week.

Crews have responded to 307 mudslides, and five buildings have been deemed uninhabitable, Los Angeles Fire Chief Kristin Crowley said. Another seven building were yellow-tagged, meaning residents could go back to get their belongings but could not stay there because of the damage.

Dion Peronneau was trying to get her artwork and books from her home, which was smashed into by a mudslide.

“Eight feet of mud is pressed up against my window that is no longer there,” she said. “They put up boards to make sure no more mud can come in.”

Despite the damage, she said she was grateful that no one was hurt when the mud knocked her sliding glass doors off their frame and came pouring into her home, where she’s lived for 25 years.

Most of Southern California remained under flood watches, and the weather service warned people to remain on high alert, as swollen and fast-moving creeks and rivers increase the risks of drowning and the need for swift-water rescues.

“This has truly been a historic storm for Los Angeles,” Ariel Cohen, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Los Angeles-area bureau told reporters, noting that the city had just recorded its third-wettest two-day stretch since recordkeeping began in the 1870s.

Between six and 12 inches of rain has fallen over the city and saturated the ground, which can increase the risk of landslides long after a storm passes, officials said. Authorities also reported several spills of raw sewage into the Pacific and closed affected Los Angeles area beaches.

It was the second storm fueled by an atmospheric river to hit the state in days.

Crews rescued people from swift-moving water in various parts of Southern California, including 16 people and five cats in Los Angeles County alone, authorities said. About an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles, two homeless people were rescued Monday after spending the night on a small island in the Santa Ana River in San Bernardino.

Bass said the city does not yet have a number of homes that were damaged by the storm and noted the city’s emergency shelters were full.

Near the Hollywood Hills dotted with multimillion-dollar homes, floodwaters carried mud, rocks and household objects downhill through Studio City, officials said. Sixteen people were evacuated and several homes were severely damaged.

Downtown Los Angeles received nearly 7 inches (18 centimeters) of rain by Monday night, which was nearly half the yearly average of 14.25 inches (36 centimeters).

Weather service forecaster Bob Oravec said some areas may not see clear skies until Thursday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for most of coastal Southern California, and on Monday, President Joe Biden promised federal help.

An evacuation order remained in place for some residents in a Los Angeles canyon area that was scarred by a 2022 fire and was at increased risk of landslides.

Fires contributed to a tragic 2018 mudslide in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, that destroyed 130 homes and killed 23 people, making it one of the deadliest in California history.

Shelters added beds for the city’s homeless population of nearly 75,000 people.

Tony Sanz opted to stay out on the streets. He spent Sunday night in a city park before seeking higher ground around dawn as floodwaters rose around his tent.

“Boy did it rain last night,” he said Monday afternoon while he hunkered down in a tent layered with tarps on a sidewalk outside a supermarket. He spied the cloudy skies during a break in the downpours and wondered, “Is that it? I hope that’s it.”

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Watson reported from San Diego. Associated Press journalists Stefanie Dazio, Christopher Weber, Damian Dovarganes and R. Blood and Eugene Garcia in Los Angeles, and Amy Taxin in Orange County contributed to this report.

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