Flooding, landslides as atmospheric river departs California

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California's 11th atmospheric river left the storm-soaked state with a bang Wednesday, delivering parting shots of flooded roadways, landslides and toppled trees to the southern part of the state as residents struggled to clean up before the next round of winter arrives.

Statewide, about 27,000 people remained under evacuation orders, and more than 61,000 were under warnings to be ready to leave due to weather impacts, according to the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. Emergency shelters housed 676 people Tuesday night.

Water pooled on roadways, rocks and mud littered others, and potholes disabled more than 30 cars on one Southern California freeway.

Flooding also closed several miles of the Pacific Coast Highway through Huntington Beach, south of Los Angeles on the Orange County coast. More than 144,000 utility customers statewide remained without power Wednesday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us.

Gov. Gavin Newsom surveyed flood damage in an agricultural region on the central coast, noting that California could potentially see a 12th atmospheric river next week. Officials have not yet determined the extent of the winter storms' damage, both structurally and financially.

“Look back — last few years in this state, it's been fire to ice with no warm bath in between,” the Democrat said, describing “weather whiplash” in a state that has quickly gone from extreme drought and wildfires to overwhelming snow and rain.

“If anyone has any doubt about Mother Nature and her fury, if anyone has any doubt about what this is all about in terms of what's happening to the climate and the changes that we are experiencing, come to California,” the governor said.

California’s latest atmospheric river was one of two storm systems that bookended the U.S. this week. Parts of New England and New York were digging out of a nor’easter Wednesday that caused tens of thousands of power outages, numerous school cancellations and whiteout conditions on roads.

Remaining showers across Southern California were expected to decrease through Wednesday evening as the storm headed toward parts of the Great Basin. The weather service said California will see minor precipitation this weekend, followed by another substantial storm next week.

Three clifftop apartment buildings were evacuated Wednesday morning when earth slid away from their backyards in coastal San Clemente, the Orange County Fire Authority said. Residents were also cleared out of a nearby building as the severity of the slide was studied.

Orange County had already declared a local emergency when a similar hillside collapsed March 3 in Newport Beach, leaving a house uninhabitable and endangering others.

For downtown Los Angeles, the National Weather Service said just under two feet of rain (61 centimeters) has been recorded so far this water year — making this the 14th wettest in more than 140 years of records.

An overnight mudslide onto a road in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles County trapped two cars, KNBC-TV reported. Another hillside in the neighborhood also gave way, threatening the foundation of a hilltop home.

Weather in the northern and central sections of the state had dried out earlier, following Tuesday’s heavy rain and fierce winds that blew out windows on a San Francisco high-rise and gusted to 74 mph (119 kph) at the city’s airport.

The governor issued emergency declarations for three more counties on Tuesday, raising the total to 43 of the state’s 58 counties.

Despite California’s rains winding down, flood warnings remain in effect on the central coast for the Salinas and Pajaro rivers in Monterey County and other rivers in the Central Valley as water runs off land that has been saturated by storms since late December.

Runoff from a powerful atmospheric river last week burst a levee on the Pajaro River, triggering evacuations as water flooded farmland and agricultural communities. Nearly half of the people under evacuation orders were in Monterey County. Closed sections of the Pacific Coast Highway in the area were expected to reopen Wednesday night.

The first phase of repairs on the 400-foot (120-meter) levee breach was completed Tuesday afternoon, and crews were working to raise the section to full height, county officials said.

The breach, however, did not prompt crews to inspect and repair levee systems elsewhere as a precaution — even though officials say the state's rural systems have not been broadly upgraded in years.

The California Department of Water Resources said local officials generally launch routine levee patrols during flood monitoring stages, but the Pajaro River disaster did not lead the state to order additional efforts to check their stability.

Damage continued to emerge elsewhere in the state. In the Sequoia National Forest, the Alta Sierra Ski Resort said it would be closed for at least two weeks because of extensive flooding and infrastructure damage, citing the U.S. Forest Service. There is also “massive slide potential” on the highway serving the resort, the resort tweeted.

California was deep in drought before an unexpected series of atmospheric rivers barreled into the state from late December through mid-January, causing flooding while building a staggering snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

Storms powered by arctic air followed in February, creating blizzard conditions that buried mountain communities under so much snow that structures began collapsing.

The water content of the Sierra snowpack is now more than 200% of the April 1 average, when it normally peaks, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

Hollywood stars splashed down a rain-soaked red carpet in Los Angeles at Tuesday's premiere of “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” where rainfall totals are double the normal average.

The film’s stars — including Zachary Levi, Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu and Rachel Zegler — tiptoed over the saturated rug as they unsuccessfully tried to stay dry.

“My feet are wet,” said Zegler. “I’m a little bit bummed, I’m not gonna lie.”


AP Writer Krysta Fauria contributed to this report.

John Antczak, The Associated Press