Monsoon-like conditions overwhelmed southern California on Wednesday, creating flash floods that kept workers at home and businesses and streets knee deep in mud and water.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning Wednesday afternoon for much of Los Angeles County and for several parts of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
The Mojave Desert also was included in that warning.
As many as 40 homes in the San Bernardino County community of Highland were damaged by mud and water after two small rivers in the foothill town overflowed, said Bill Peters, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in six counties Wednesday as the rainstorms continued for a fifth day and another powerful Pacific front moved in.
Schwarzenegger warned of a forecast that calls for “extraordinary and continuing rainfall” that is likely to cause more flooding and landslides. His declaration authorizes state assistance for local authorities in Kern, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo and Tulare counties, all in southern California.
“We’re preparing for what we expect to be a very heavy, severe rainstorm,” said Mike Kaspar with Los Angeles County Public Works. “… In the worst-case scenario, we could be looking at as much as 8 inches more of rain in the southern California area.”
Jun Cruz, 41, a nurse who lives in Loma Linda, California, described a typical scenario for homeowners and businessmen in many communities Wednesday: The morning newspaper was delivered at 7 a.m., and moments later a flash flood carried mud and water to driveways and doorsteps.
Neighbors were left shoveling the muck from the front of their houses, but many of them couldn’t go to work because their cars were partly submerged in water, Cruz said.
“Thank God, the mud didn’t through our home,” said Cruz, who’s also a CNN iReporter. “The hill beside us eroded with water, and it brought the water and the mud along with it.”
Snapshots of the deluge showed damage to roads and homes — as well as youths making light of flooded streets. There were downed trees in Altadena, rescuers using canoes to reach stranded motorists in downtown Laguna Beach, and teenagers in wet suits sitting in lawn chairs asking motorists and a fire truck to splash them on a flooded Ocean Beach street.
And, in almost a surreal moment dreamt up by a screenwriter, the sun briefly broke through the dark clouds late Wednesday, and the Hollywood sign and surrounding hills had a spectacular double rainbow appear over them.
There was also an element of the macabre: Raging waters eroded part of a cemetery in Whittier, California, and the collapse of soil was close to some grave markers. The stark image was captured by a local television news helicopter, but it was unclear Wednesday whether graves were washed away.
“Everyone in the area has been affected — street closures, detours and inability to get to work. Fears are that if they go now, it will start raining again and then they will not get home,” said Timothy Gillepsie, 39, a minister in the San Bernardino Valley. He’s also a CNN iReporter.
Ricky Hayner of Altadena had to hire crews with chain saws to remove the remnants of two downed trees in his backyard.
“The constant barrage of rain has caused flooding on many of the highways and local streets. This was also the cause of the tree falling, the excess water loosening the roots,” he said.
It wasn’t a good day for “the infrastructure,” as one San Diego commuter put it.
“The streets are flooded. Fences are completely knocked down. There are tree branches down. I saw a lot of that on my way to work,” said Michelle Johnson, 37, a project manager in San Diego, who arrived to work 45 minutes late. “But I got here. It was really crazy.”
Kristiana Kocis, a Red Cross spokeswoman, reported that six people were in a shelter in a high school in San Luis Obispo and 15 more were in a shelter in Guadalupe.
Full coverage by CNN on channel 91 here in NZ on Sky