Tuesday 02/06/2020 - 02:22 am

California storm wreaks havoc, causes at least 2 deaths

2017.02.18 11:51

The latest and one of the most powerful in a string of deadly storms marched through California, killing at least two people, flooding freeways, triggering mudslides and raising new fears whether the Oroville Dam will hold.

Unlike some of the past deluges to engulf what had been the drought-parched Golden State, the latest was accompanied by winds that whipped upwards of 70 miles per hour in some locales, which caused much of the damage.

In the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, the winds and rain were blamed for downing power lines along a busy stretch of Sepulveda Boulevard that fell on a car underneath. The driver was electrocuted, Los Angeles police said.

Interstate 5, the major north-south artery through California, was flooded near Los Angeles with water as deep as about five feet. Rush-hour traffic came to a crawl as California Highway Patrol officers guided motorists to offramps  But drivers of big-rig trucks, taking advantage of their high clearance, waded through waters that almost rose to their hoods at times.

As the worst of the storm struck in the early afternoon, work crews — from fire departments, Caltrans and public works departments — were deployed throughout the region to respond to traffic accidents, downed trees and power lines and flooding as a result of the heavy rain.

In Victorville, a desert community east of Los Angeles, several vehicles were swept away by rushing water. One motorists was rescued from atop their vehicle. But San Bernardino County firefighters say one motorist died when their car was submerged.

Billed as one of the most powerful storms to hit the Southland in years, residents were evacuated in some areas due to concerns of mudslides and heavy wind currents. In total, the storm had been predicted to dump four to six inches of rain in a region that had seen water restrictions after years of drought.

“This is a powerful storm that is going to have a big impact over a short amount of time,” National Weather Service meteorologist Derek Schroeter said. “The rain and wind will diminish by Saturday morning with scattered showers throughout Saturday.”

The rain could cause flooding and the Riverside County Fire Department cautioned all to avoid areas with high water and adhere to road closure signs. “Do not attempt to cross flooded roads or waterways on foot or in vehicles,” Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins said.

On Interstate 15, the freeway that connects Las Vegas to Southern California, a fire engine went off the side when the water undercut the roadway beneath it. The firefighters were able to escape unhurt.

Some of the hardest hit spots in Friday storms were the mountains and hills around Ojai and the Ventura River basin, swelling rivers and creeks that have had a string of dry years.

In Studio City, two cars were swallowed by a massive sinkhole, leaving at least one person injured, ABC7 reported. Rescue crews were able to pull one person from the car and rushed the woman to a nearby hospital, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

The Associated Press reported that more than 300 arriving and departing flights from the Los Angeles International Airport were delayed or canceled due to the storm.

In Westlake Village, the water in the Las Virgenes reservoir could reach its spillway for the first time in more than 40 years. The reservoir has never spilled since it was first filled in 1974, but the system was designed to work this way and the dam is not at risk, officials said. The water is mostly imported from Northern California. But rain Friday and over the weekend could push the water level past capacity.

While southern and central California took the brunt of the storm, emergency crews kept a close eye on the Oroville Dam in northern California, which earlier this week appeared weakened by damage to its spillways. The fear had been that the dam could fail, inundating the town of Oroville.

A massive effort, however, had shored up the spillways with trucks and helicopters hauling in boulders. In addition, more water was drained from behind the dam, raising the hopes that the structure could handle additional rainfall without being topped.


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