Californian resorts and cities evacuated hundreds of people on Wednesday as a new storm brought more misery after days of flooding, thunderstorms and tidal surges.
The latest violent storm to hit the region left residential mountainous areas under mud while authorities scrambled to save lives at risk. Some public transportation and even funeral services were suspended because of flooding fears.
About 400 people and 20 stores were evacuated in coastal San Juan Capistrano, between Los Angeles and San Diego, after a hillside collapsed near a dozen houses.
The storm inundated the local airport, closing down its cemetery and cutting power to one of the metro lines serving eastern Los Angeles. It also closed down San Diego’s SeaWorld park.
Rising flood waters were also causing headaches throughout southern California. Local television news stations broadcast numerous reports of stranded motorist who had to be plucked from their cars after becoming trapped by raging flash floods.
Officials warned residents, particularly those near local creeks and waterways, to take the risk in earnest.
“This is not a playground. This is no time to do extreme sports,” Jack Wise of the Los Angeles Fire Department said. “Even six inches [15cm] of water in the flood control channels is enough to wash you down the river ... There’s -nobody to hear you scream.”
Officials in Los Angeles County ordered the evacuations of hundreds of homes in the shadow of the denuded San Gabriel Mountains, which recent fires have made bereft of vegetation and where there was a high risk of flooding and landslides.
“If you fail to comply, it could result in death,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael -Antonovich said.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency in half a dozen southern California counties because of the storms.
Forecasters predicted the rain would be accompanied by winds between 24kph and 40kph and gusts of up to 105kph.
Heavy snows, rain, winds and cooler-than-usual temperatures have buffeted the western US throughout the weekend, hitting Oregon and California especially hard.
In farm-rich central California, floods earlier this week forced 2,000 people from their homes in Kern County, the local fire department reported in a statement.
Downtown Los Angeles has seen days of record rainfall, with cascades of water causing power outages across Southern California, mudslides and rock slides in the area’s scenic foothills, and closure of parts of the famed Pacific Coast Highway.
The one bright spot was had by the region’s winter resorts, where record amounts of snow created a skiers’ paradise just in time for the Christmas holiday season.