California storms bring mudslide fears, blizzard warning

Mandatory or voluntary evacuations were ordered in at least five counties in Southern California

Authorities told residents to evacuate hundreds of Southern California homes in areas burned by wildfires as storms brought steady rainfall Tuesday and forced a rare blizzard warning for much of the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe in the northern part of the state.

Mandatory or voluntary evacuations were ordered in at least five counties in Southern California that have been scarred by intense wildfires in recent years, making the areas vulnerable to flooding.

“Please heed disaster messages and prepare to leave immediately,” officials in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles warned residents. “We don’t want anyone in harm’s way.”

Evacuations were mandatory in more than a half dozen areas of Ventura and Los Angeles counties affected by last year’s Woolsey Fire. The blaze that broke out in November destroyed more than 1,500 homes and other buildings from Ventura County to Malibu and killed four people.

All schools in Malibu were closed Tuesday.

In Santa Barbara County on the Central Coast, officials told people to flee areas hit by three fires, urging them to “gather family members, pets and essential items.”

A debris flow also could make roads impassable and strand people near evacuation areas, especially in the communities of Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria, the county warned.

A powerful storm hit Montecito last January, sending water, mud and boulders barrelling down creeks and canyons following a devastating fire that burned and destabilized foothills. Twenty-three people died and more than 100 homes were destroyed.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for mountains in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, forecasting periods of heavy snow and gusty winds that would create dangerous driving conditions.

Meanwhile, a blizzard warning for much of the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe was set to go into effect Wednesday night, with meteorologists predicting as much of 5 feet (1.5 metres) of snow in upper elevations.

Dangerous and potentially life-threatening blizzard conditions were expected at elevations above 7,000 feet (2,133 metres), with high avalanche danger throughout the region.

Weather forecasters have predicted a series of storms that could keep bringing rain and snow through the middle of the week.

The first in the series of storms dumped an inch of rain in Los Angeles and snow in the mountains Monday. Rain closed the Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement parks.

In San Diego County, a 20-foot-long (6-meter-long), 20-foot-deep sinkhole developed on an Interstate 805 off-ramp near Serra Mesa.

A mudslide closed a 4.4-mile (7-kilometre) section of Pacific Coast Highway just north of Malibu on Monday for several hours.

In Encino, in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, a 250-foot-long (76-meter) debris flow from a hillside pushed a guest house off its foundation. No one was hurt.

Ice and blowing snow also shut down a major route connecting Los Angeles with San Francisco. Dozens of cars and trucks were stranded for hours before the Grapevine, a high pass on Interstate 5, reopened after nightfall.

The Associated Press

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