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Heavy rain sends debris flow onto Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, prompts flash flood warning

Hannah Fry, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

LOS ANGELES -- Heavy rain that pounded Los Angeles and the surrounding areas early Thursday caused debris to flow onto Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and prompted the National Weather Service to issue a flash flood warning for Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Pacific Coast Highway is closed from Busch Drive to the Ventura County line after mud flowed onto the roadway. A thick layer of mud caused at least one vehicle to get stuck.

Mudslides also were reported on Kanan Road and in the 30400 block of Morning View Drive in Malibu, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Rain that rolled into the area overnight and continued into Thursday morning proved to be more significant than the scattered showers from the previous day, said Keily Delerme, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"Yesterday, the difference was we had east winds that were drying things out, so not much rain was falling," Delerme said. "Today, those winds have weakened, and it's allowing for more rain to fall."

Shortly after 6 a.m., the Woolsey and Hill burn areas were seeing a quarter of an inch to nearly half an inch of rain per hour. Those amounts were just under thresholds that could trigger debris flows, Delerme said.

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But the rain continued to drop with ferocious intensity. About a third of an inch of precipitation fell on the Woolsey and Hill burn scar areas in about 30 minutes shortly before 8 a.m., according to the weather service, which warned that debris flows "are expected to begin shortly."

No evacuation orders have been issued.

The soil in burn areas cannot absorb a lot of moisture, so heavy rainfall can lead to fast-moving flows containing mud, debris and even trees and boulders. When rain falls over time, it can be gradually absorbed or dispersed, but when areas see rapid runoff, entire hillsides can come down without warning, sometimes with deadly results.

The National Weather Service said residents should be on alert for possible rock slides and minor debris flows, especially across Highway 1, Kanan Road, Malibu Canyon and near canyon roadways affected by the recent wildfires.

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