California towns deal with floods, rockslides
PAJARO — Surging rivers. Sliding rocks. Flooded towns.
The 11th atmospheric river storm of the season left a trail of soggy misery in California as it broke decades-old rainfall records and breached levees this week.
In the Tulare County city of Porterville, residents on both sides of the Tule River were ordered to evacuate Wednesday morning as levels rose at Lake Success, sending water running over the spillway at Schafer Dam.
The runoff “expedited the need for us to get out of the area,” Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said in a video update around 1 a.m., adding that about 100 homes lie between the spillway and Road 284. Emergency shelters are open at the Exeter Veterans Memorial Building, Porterville College Gym and Dinuba Memorial Hall.
Lake Success saw a significant increase in inflows overnight, peaking at nearly 19,800 cubic feet of water rushing in per second Wednesday morning, according to state data. Visalia and Porterville have declared a state of emergency.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said the devastation across the state was indicative of extreme weather swings driven by climate change.
“You look back at the last few years in this state — it’s been fire to ice, and no warm bath in between,” he said during a news briefing Wednesday in Pajaro, the Monterey County town flooded by a levee breach last week. “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’re experiencing — come to the state of California.”
Storm clouds were beginning to clear Wednesday, though many effects are expected to linger.
More than 150,000 people remained without power statewide, many in the San Francisco Bay Area, where classes were canceled at more than a dozen schools in Cupertino.
In San Clemente, four apartment buildings were evacuated after mud, rocks and debris tumbled down a hillside behind the buildings, the Orange County Fire Authority said. No injuries were reported, but the trail below the properties as well as a portion of Buena Vista along the shore were closed.
In the Los Angeles area, a debris flow in Baldwin Hills trapped several cars overnight. On Wednesday morning, as many as 30 vehicles were disabled by about five large potholes on the 71 Freeway near Pomona, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Multiple rainfall records for the date were set by large margins Tuesday, including 2.54 inches in Santa Barbara, breaking a record of 1.36 inches set in 1952, and 2.25 inches in Oxnard, beating 1930’s mark of 1.46 inches. Los Angeles International Airport saw 1.97 inches, smashing a record of 0.43 of an inch set in 1982.
In the San Bernardino Mountains, heavy rain melted dense snowpack and sent torrents of water rushing down streets. As much as 4.3 inches of rain fell on the mountain slopes during the last storm, according to the National Weather Service, but officials said there weren’t any major issues from the rains.
In Sacramento, reports of surfers and kayakers on the surging American River prompted warnings from the county.
The Fresno Fire Department responded to an apartment complex where a very large tree had toppled onto the building, displacing at least five adults and five children, said spokesman Jonathan Lopez-Galvan.
Perhaps the most lasting effect of the storm will be in the flooded community of Pajaro. A levee breach on the Pajaro River late Friday sent floodwaters rushing into the migrant town of about 3,000 people, prompting widespread evacuations and cutting off potable water to the area.
State and county officials were working to stabilize the breach, but there was no official timeline for when it will be fixed.
“We want people to get back into their homes as soon as possible, and we’re going to do whatever we can to make that happen,” county spokesman Nicholas Pasculli said during a news briefing Tuesday. “But there’s going to be cases, without a doubt, that people will not be able to return to some of their homes.”
Officials knew for decades that the levee was vulnerable to failure but never prioritized repairs because they believed it did not make financial sense to protect the low-income area, a Los Angeles Times report found this week.