At least 3 dead as heavy rains trigger flooding, mudflows and freeway closures across Southern California

James Queally and Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

LOS ANGELES -- Heavy rains triggered freeway closures throughout the Los Angeles region Tuesday and unleashed mud flows in areas ravaged by wildfires last month, shutting down more than 30 miles of the 101 Freeway and leaving at least three people dead as rescue personnel scrambled through clogged roadways and downed trees, officials said.

At least 8 people were injured in Montecito after a heavy band of rain that hit the area around 2:30 a.m. causing "waist-high" mud flows, according to Mike Eliason, a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. The mudflows knocked three homes from their foundations and left fire personnel rushing to free people trapped in vehicles and homes, according to Eliason, who said a child was among those injured.

Kelly Huber, a spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office, said two people who were found dead in Montecito Tuesday morning may have been killed as a result of the storm. She could not immediately provide more details.

Emergency crews in the area have also received numerous unconfirmed missing-person reports, Eliason said.

"We're still hoping that's not the case," he said.

As of 5 a.m., at least 5 inches of rainfall had been collected in a gauge north of Ojai in Ventura County, in the burn area of the Thomas fire, which forced evacuations and destroyed homes last month, according to the National Weather Service in Los Angeles.

The 101 Freeway was shut down in both directions for more than 30 miles in the Thomas fire burn area because of flooding and debris flow, spanning an area from Santa Barbara to Ventura, according to the California Highway Patrol. Route 33 also has been closed between Fairview and Rose Valley roads north of Ojai, according to the Ventura County Sheriff's Office.

In Los Angeles County, one person was killed when a big rig overturned in the northbound lanes of the 5 Freeway near Los Feliz, said Saul Gomez, public information officer for the CHP's Southern Division. All northbound lanes were closed as of 4 a.m., though Gomez said police were hoping to reopen the roadway by 8 a.m.

The victim, who was not identified, was approximately 60 years old, Gomez said. No one else was injured.

As of 7 a.m., Santa Barbara County fire officials had already rescued several people trapped in debris flows on Hot Springs Road in Montecito, Eliason said on Twitter. Los Angeles Fire Department personnel also launched a swift-water rescue to aid a man and a dog trapped in rising water near the Sepulveda Basin Recreation Area.

Flooding in that area has caused road closures at Burbank Boulevard near the 405 Freeway and at the intersection of Hayvenhurst Avenue, the LAPD said. An LAPD cruiser became mired in a debris flow on La Tuna Canyon Road, according to authorities. The officer was uninjured and walked out of their vehicle. The cruiser was in the process of being dug out of the mud with a backhoe early Tuesday.

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Also in Los Angeles County, a mudslide caused officials to close Topanga Canyon Boulevard, just north of Pacific Coast Highway early Tuesday, and Burbank Police were reporting "mudslide activity" that had dumped heavy debris onto Country Club Drive. The 110 North near Redondo Beach Boulevard also has been closed because of flooding, the CHP said.

The CHP also said heavy rains likely contributed to a crash that left one person dead on Route 126 in an unincorporated section of Ventura County on Monday afternoon. One woman died and two others were injured in the five-car crash, the agency said.

The National Weather Service was reporting rainfall totals of up to 4 1/2 inches in Ventura County and 3 inches in Santa Barbara County as of 6 a.m. Nearly 1 1/2 inches of rain had fallen in Bel Air, which could be susceptible to mudslides and debris flow because of damage caused by the Skirball fire last month.

Vast swaths of Southern California became subject to evacuation orders Monday as the powerful rainstorm was forecast to release a deluge on areas ravaged by wildfires last month. The heaviest rainfall was expected to hit Tuesday morning.

In Los Angeles County, sheriff's deputies went door to door Monday alerting residents about the orders in Kagel Canyon, Lopez Canyon and Little Tujunga Canyon. Those who refused to leave said they had to sign a form saying they understood the risk.

Residents in burn zones in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, along with an area of Duarte, also were ordered to leave, while those in the Corona and Burbank burn areas were put on notice that they may have to evacuate if conditions worsened.

When a fire sweeps through an area, it not only burns the vegetation but damages the soil itself. The intense heat makes the soil unable to absorb water the way it normally would.

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