Biggest Storm in Five Years Thrashes Southern California

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) —
A worker with the Newport Beach public works department walks across a flooded beach-side parking lot near the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach, Calif., early Saturday, Feb. 18. (Mark Rightmire/The Orange County Register via AP)

Southern California cleaned up on Saturday after its biggest storm in years unleashed a wave of rain and snow that killed at least three people and triggered flooding, mudslides, high winds and power outages, officials said.

Vital highways and railways were shut down and sinkholes opened on main roads under the heaviest rainfall in the drought-stricken region in at least five years, according to the National Weather Service.

In one of wettest spots near Santa Barbara, over 10 inches (25 cm) of rain fell on Friday with several other stations in Southern California reporting at least 9 inches (23 cm), said meteorologist Patrick Burke of the Weather Prediction Center.

“It’s been a very active winter and rainy season for the entire state of California,” Burke said. “They needed that because of the drought. But sometimes droughts end with a flood and we’ve gone from one extreme to the other.”

Parts of Southern California have been the slowest to exit the drought. But the state’s reservoirs are 22 percent more full than the average, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Since Oct. 1, downtown Los Angeles has received more than 18 inches (46 cm) of rain, which is higher than the total annual average of just under 15 inches.

By Saturday afternoon, the storm had moved east into Nevada and Arizona. Northern California will be walloped with more rain and snow beginning on Sunday, with 4 to 8 inches (10 cm to 20 cm) of precipitation expected in the coastal mountains, Burke said.

Meanwhile, utility crews worked to restore electricity to tens of thousands of customers affected by power outages throughout the Los Angeles area on Saturday.

One man died on Friday after he was electrocuted by a downed wire, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. Another person was found dead in a submerged vehicle in Victorville, about 85 miles (137 km) northeast of Los Angeles, fire officials said.

And the body of a man was discovered on Saturday morning in a creek in Thousand Oaks, 40 miles (64 km) west of downtown Los Angeles, after he was swept away by floodwaters, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said.

Local news also showed video footage of a San Bernardino County fire truck tumbling over the side of a freeway as the road gave out.

“All firefighters confirmed safe,” the San Bernardino County Fire Department said on Twitter.

The storm also brought unusually strong winds. At the Port of Los Angeles, gusts as high as 75 miles per hour (121 km/h) were recorded on Friday.

Amtrak railroad service was suspended from Los Angeles north to San Luis Obispo on Saturday due to extreme weather conditions, according to the transportation service’s website.

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