Evacuations near central California dam as storm swells rivers and shatters rainfall records

Rivers in flood. Slippery rocks. Flooded cities.

The 11th atmospheric river storm of the season has left a soggy trail of misery across California as it smashed decades-old rainfall records and breached levees this week.

In the Tulare County town of Porterville, residents on both sides of the Tule River were ordered to evacuate Wednesday morning as levels rose at Lake Success, sending water rushing over the spillway of the Schafer dam.

“The amount of water coming from the hillsides is high, and [it has] hastened the need for us to get out of the area,” Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said in a video update around 1 a.m., noting that authorities were going door to door to evacuate. the residents.

About 100 homes are between the spillway and Route 284, Boudreaux said. 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, with about 19,064 cubic feet of water rushing in per second Wednesday morning, according to state data. Visalia and Porterville have declared states of emergency.

Elsewhere in the state, storm clouds were beginning to clear Wednesday, though many impacts are expected to persist.

Nearly 200,000 people were left without power across the state, many in the San Francisco Bay Area, where classes were canceled at more than a dozen schools in Cupertino.

In the Los Angeles area, mud and trees fell on a hill in Baldwin Hills overnight, trapping several cars. Several daily rainfall records were set by wide margins on Tuesday, including 2.54 inches at Santa Barbara, breaking a record of 1.36 inches set in 1952, and 2.25 inches at Oxnard, beating the 1930s mark of 1.46 inches. Los Angeles International Airport saw 1.97 inches, breaking a record of 0.43 inches set in 1982.

In the San Bernardino Mountains, heavy rains melted a dense snowpack and sent torrents of water rushing through the streets. In Sacramento, reports of surfers and kayakers on the rise of the American River triggered county warnings.

The Fresno Fire Department responded to an apartment complex where a very large tree had toppled over the building, displacing at least five adults and five children, spokesman Jonathan Lopez-Galvan said. The tree also damaged two vehicles and destroyed a power pole, but no one was injured.

Perhaps the storm’s most lasting impact will be in the flooded community of Pajaro, Monterey County. A breach in a levee on the Pajaro River on Friday evening sent stormwater rushing through the migrant town of around 3,000 people, causing widespread evacuations and cutting off drinking water in the area.

State and county officials were working to stabilize the breach, but there was no official timeline for when it will be repaired.

“We want people to get home as soon as possible, and we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen,” county spokesman Nicholas Pasculli said at a press briefing on Tuesday. “But there will undoubtedly be instances where people cannot return to some of their homes.”

Authorities were also closely monitoring the nearby Salinas River, which remained swollen in Bradley and Spreckels on Wednesday morning.

“They’re still in the flood phase at the gauges, and it’s going to be a while before they recede,” said Jeff Lorber, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in the Bay Area.

Although the rains have mostly stopped, further increases in rivers are expected due to runoff, Lorber said. “It’s still very saturated, the ground, so the moisture accumulated in the mountains will take some time to seep into the valleys.”

In Southern California, officials were also watching the Conejo Creek in Camarillo, which peaked Wednesday morning and triggered a flood warning for the area. Causeway flooding is expected, including around the Ventura community of Leisure Village, said Rose Schoenfeld, meteorologist with the Oxnard Weather Service.

The storm caused incidents of “mud and rock slides on roads and pavement flooding overnight,” Schoenfeld said, including flooding on the 105 Freeway near Long Beach Boulevard. “There are definitely travel impacts across the region.”

Santa Barbara County officials reported the storm had created a waterfall in Tucker’s Grove Park, noting that “flowing water will find its way to San Antonio Creek and eventually spill into the ocean”.

In Orange County, Supervisor Katrina Foley declared a local state of emergency on Tuesday to support responses to storms in the area, sparked in part by a hillside collapse in Newport Beach that threatened some homes and collapses a piece of bluff.

“I hope there will be no more landslides on the shore, but if these three houses fall, a cascading effect may occur for the other 50 houses on the cliff and we must be prepared in case that happens. would happen,” Foley said in a statement. .

Governor Gavin Newsom extended his state of emergency Tuesday night to include Orange, Alpine and Trinity counties, meaning 43 of California’s 58 counties are now covered by the proclamation. More than 30 flood watches and warnings are in effect from the National Weather Service.

Forecasters said the rain is expected to ease in most areas by Wednesday afternoon. However, another atmospheric river is likely to hit the state next week.

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