U.S. top court rejects challenge to California gun waiting period

Firearms are shown for sale at the AO Sword gun store in El Cajon, California, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a blow to gun rights activists, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away a challenge to California’s 10-day waiting period for firearms purchases that is intended to guard against impulsive violence and suicides.

The court’s action underscored its continued reluctance to step into the national debate over gun control roiled by a series of mass shootings including one at a Florida school last week. One of the court’s most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas, dissented from the decision to reject the case and accused his colleagues of showing contempt toward constitutional protections for gun rights.

The gun rights groups and individual gun owners who challenged the law had argued that it violated their right to keep and bear arms under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. The challengers did not seek to invalidate California’s waiting period for everyone, just for people who already owned guns and passed a background check.

In his dissent, Thomas scolded his colleagues. “If a lower court treated another right so cavalierly, I have little doubt this court would intervene,” Thomas wrote. “But as evidenced by our continued inaction in this area, the Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this court.”

The Supreme Court has not taken up a major firearms case since issuing important gun rulings in 2008 and 2010.

The United States has among the most lenient gun control laws in the world. With the U.S. Congress deeply divided over gun control, it has fallen to states and localities to impose firearms restrictions. Democratic-governed California has some of the broadest firearms measures of any state.

A series of mass shootings including one in which a gunman killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida high school on Feb. 14 have added to the long-simmering U.S. debate over gun control and the availability of firearms.

In another gun case, the high court on Tuesday also declined to take up a National Rifle Association challenge to California’s refusal to lower its fees on firearms sales and instead use a surplus generated by the fees to fund efforts to track down illegal weapons.

Thomas said he suspected that the Supreme Court would readily hear cases involving potentially unconstitutional waiting periods if they involved abortion, racist publications or police traffic stops.

“The right to keep and bear arms is apparently this court’s constitutional orphan. And the lower courts seem to have gotten the message,” Thomas added.

Lead plaintiff Jeff Silvester, the Calguns Foundation and its executive director Brandon Combs, and the Second Amendment Foundation in 2011 challenged the 10-day waiting period between the purchase of a firearm and its actual delivery to the buyer, saying it violated the Second Amendment for individuals who already lawfully own a firearm or are licensed to carry one.

The waiting period gives a gun buyer inclined to use it for an impulsive purpose a “cooling off” period before obtaining it, which has been shown in studies to reduce handgun suicides and homicides, the state said in a legal filing. The waiting period also gives officials time to run background checks and ensure that weapons being sold are not stolen or being purchased for someone prohibited from gun ownership, the state said.

The states of California, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Illinois, Minnesota, Florida, Iowa, Maryland and New Jersey as well as Washington, D.C., have waiting periods that vary in duration and type of firearm, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gun control advocacy group.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s law in 2016, reversing a federal trial court that had ruled it unconstitutional.

Last year, the Supreme Court left in place a California law that bars permits to carry a concealed gun in public places unless the applicant can show “good cause” for having it.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

In the Hollywood Hills, eyes on the moon, not the stars

A lunar eclipse is shown over the ocean in Oceanside, California, U.S., January 31, 2018.

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A thousand people crowded on a hilltop outside Los Angeles before dawn on Wednesday for one of the best views in America of a rare lunar eclipse called a “Super Blue Blood Moon,” as the Earth’s shadow fell across its natural satellite.

Outside the Griffith Observatory, which more commonly draws tourists looking at the city’s famous Hollywood sign, people lounged on the grass and peered through telescopes for a better look at the red-tinted “blood moon” shadow

“I didn’t expect to see this many people and it kind of feels like nice inside to be, ‘Ah! Other people know about this and want to come see it,'” said Sam Rubaye, a 34-year-old property manager in Los Angeles who came up with friends.

The "Super Blue Blood Moon" sets behind the Staten Island Ferry, seen from Brooklyn, New York, U.S., January 31, 2018.

The “Super Blue Blood Moon” sets behind the Staten Island Ferry, seen from Brooklyn, New York, U.S., January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

In western North America, the eclipse began at 3:48 a.m. Pacific Time (1148 GMT), according to NASA. Those on the East Coast were less fortunate: the moon had set before the eclipse was in full swing, according to NASA.

The eclipse occurred during the rare occasion of a second full moon in a single month, otherwise known as a “blue moon,” and during a point in the moon’s orbit at which it has reached its closest position to Earth, thus making it appear larger and brighter in the sky than normal, as a “super moon.”

The reddish appearance of the lunar surface – the moon’s image does not vanish entirely during an eclipse – is due to rays of sunlight passing through Earth’s atmosphere as the moon falls into our planet’s shadow.

The last time all three conditions occurred for a single lunar eclipse visible from North America was in 1866, according to the meteorological forecaster AccuWeather.

“Griffith Observatory is all about having an eyeball to the sky, and so it’s one thing to learn about this event in a book, but it’s another to see it for yourself,” observatory director Ed Krupp said in a phone interview.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Michael Perry and Andrew Hay)

Trump administration demands documents from ‘sanctuary cities’

People visit the Liberty State Island as Lower Manhattan is seen at the background in New York, U.S., August 17, 2017.

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday escalated its battle with so-called sanctuary cities that protect illegal immigrants from deportation, demanding documents on whether local law enforcement agencies are illegally withholding information from U.S. immigration authorities.

The Justice Department said it was seeking records from 23 jurisdictions — including America’s three largest cities, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as three states, California, Illinois and Oregon — and will issue subpoenas if they do not comply fully and promptly.

The administration has accused sanctuary cities of violating a federal law that prohibits local governments from restricting information about the immigration status of people arrested from being shared with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Many of the jurisdictions have said they already are in full compliance with the law. Some sued the administration after the Justice Department threatened to cut off millions of dollars in federal public safety grants. The cities have won in lower courts, but the legal fight is ongoing.

The Republican president’s fight with the Democratic-governed sanctuary cities, an issue that appeals to his hard-line conservative supporters, began just days after he took office last year when he signed an executive order saying he would block certain funding to municipalities that failed to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The order has since been partially blocked by a federal court.

“Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

Democratic mayors fired back, and some including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to skip a previously planned meeting on Wednesday afternoon at the White House with Trump.

“The Trump Justice Department can try to intimidate us with legal threats, but we will never abandon our values as a welcoming city or the rights of Chicago residents,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “The Trump administration’s actions undermine public safety by jeopardizing our philosophy of community policing, as they attempt to drive a wedge between immigrant communities and the police who serve them.”

IMMIGRATION CRACKDOWN

The issue is part of Trump’s broader immigration crackdown. As a candidate, he threatened to deport all roughly 11 million of them. As president, he has sought to step up arrests of illegal immigrants, rescinded protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children and issued orders blocking entry of people from several Muslim-majority countries.

Other jurisdictions on the Justice Department’s list include: Denver; San Francisco; the Washington state county that includes Seattle; Louisville, Kentucky; California’s capital Sacramento; New York’s capital Albany, Mississippi’s capital Jackson; West Palm Beach, Florida; the county that includes Albuquerque, New Mexico; and others.

The Justice Department said certain sanctuary cities such as Philadelphia were not on its list due to pending litigation.

On Twitter on Wednesday, De Blasio objected to the Justice Department’s decision to, in his words, “renew their racist assault on our immigrant communities. It doesn’t make us safer and it violates America’s core values.”

“The White House has been very clear that we don’t support sanctuary cities,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, adding that mayors cannot “pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”

The Justice Department last year threatened to withhold certain public safety grants to sanctuary cities if they failed to adequately share information with ICE, prompting legal battles in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

In the Chicago case, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction barring the Justice Department from withholding this grant money on the grounds that its action was likely unconstitutional. This funding is typically used to help local police improve crime-fighting techniques, buy equipment and assist crime victims.

The Justice Department is appealing that ruling. It said that litigation has stalled the issuance of these grants for fiscal 2017, which ended Sept. 30.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Makini Brice; Editing by Will Dunham)

Major highway reopened as California mudslides toll climbs to 21

Workers on the 101 Highway clear mud and debris from the roadway after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. January 12, 2018.

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) – California’s iconic Highway 101 in Santa Barbara reopened on Sunday nearly two weeks after it was covered with 12 feet (3.7 meters) of debris from mudslides, and a day after the discovery of a missing woman’s body pushed the death toll to 21.

Torrential rains triggered the Jan. 9 mudslides, which injured dozens more people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of buildings around the affluent community of Montecito, 85 miles (137 km) northwest of Los Angeles.

The reopening of the busy north-south coastal highway followed what the state transportation agency Caltrans called a “Herculean effort,” and was expected to ease hours-long detours and traffic chaos that bedeviled commuters.

Cleanup crews had been working around the clock in 12-hour shifts, officials said, while ferry boats had been making commuter runs twice a day between Santa Barbara and Ventura to help residents trying to get to work.

Search and rescue teams continued working with dogs on Sunday in Montecito to look for a two-year-old and a 17-year-old who are still missing, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.

On Saturday the teams found the body of missing 28-year-old Faviola Benitez Calderon, of Montecito. She belonged to a family that lost several members in the disaster.

“The Sheriff’s Office wants to express our deepest condolences to the Benitez family, who were already mourning the loss of Faviola’s 10-year-old son, Jonathan Benitez and his cousin 3-year-old Kailly Benitez, as well as Kailly’s mother, 27-year-old Marilyn Ramos,” the office said in a statement.

The discovery of Calderon’s body brought the number of fatalities to 21. The toll had already marked the greatest loss of life from a California mudslide in at least 13 years.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Parents charged after 13 siblings found starved, chained in California

A van sits parked on the driveway of the home of David Allen Turpin and Louise Ann Turpin in Perris, California, U.S. January 15, 2018.

By Phoenix Tso and Mike Blake

PERRIS, Calif. (Reuters) – The 13 California siblings who police say were starved and chained to beds by their parents rarely left their disheveled house and, when they did, they appeared small and pale and acted strangely, neighbors said.

David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, were arrested on Sunday and each charged with nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment after a 17-year-old, emaciated girl escaped their house in Perris, about 70 miles (115 km) east of Los Angeles and called police, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office said on Monday.

Police said in a statement that they found several of the couple’s 13 children, ranging in age from 2 to 29, “shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings”.

“The victims appeared to be malnourished and very dirty,” it said.

Kimberly Milligan, 50, who lives across the street from the family, told Reuters that she only saw the infant in the mother’s arms and three other children since she moved in across the street two years ago, describing them as small and pale.

“Why don’t we ever see the kids?” Milligan said. “In hindsight, we would have never thought this, but there were red flags. You never don’t hear or see nine kids.”

Two years ago, while walking around the neighborhood admiring Christmas lights and decorations, Milligan said she encountered three of the Turpin children and complimented them on the manger with a baby Jesus that they had outside their home. She said the children froze if by doing so they could become invisible.

“20-year-olds never act like that,” she said. “They didn’t want to have a social conversation.”

Nicole Gooding, 35, who has lived in the neighborhood for three years, said that the first time she saw the family was two months ago when the mother and children cleaning up yard that was full of weeds and overflowing trash cans.

“I had never seen them at all until that day,” she said.

The parents, who are scheduled to appear in court on Thursday, are being held on $9 million bail, police said.

The police statement did not detail the parents’ motive for holding the children and a police spokesman said he had no further details.

Six of the couple’s children are minors, while the other seven are over 18, parents said.

A Facebook page that appeared to have been created by the parents showed the couple dressed in wedding clothes, surrounded by 10 female children in matching purple plaid dresses and three male children in suits.

David Turpin’s parents, James and Betty Turpin of West Virginia, told ABC News they are “surprised and shocked” by the allegations against their son and daughter-in-law, saying they can’t understand “any of this”.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Three still missing in California’s deadly mudslides

Rescue workers scour through cars for missing persons after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kyle Grillot

(Reuters) – The number of people missing from last week’s deadly Southern California mudslides fell to three on Monday as hundreds of rescue workers searched for survivors from the rain-driven slides that killed 20 people.

A 53-year-old transient, John Keating, had been listed among the four still missing but was found safely in Ventura, California, with his dog, the Santa County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

Three people ages 2 to 28 are still listed as missing after sheriff’s detectives investigated more than 100 missing persons cases, the statement said.

Emergency officials said hopes were diminishing that they would pull more survivors from the ravaged landscape of hardened muck, boulders and twisted debris left behind by the Tuesday mudslides that scoured a landscape already barren from last year’s record-setting wildfires.

The mudslides that scoured the affluent community of Montecito, 85 miles (137 km) northwest of Los Angeles, caused the greatest loss of life from a California mudslide in at least 13 years.

A search and rescue dog is guided through properties after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. January 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Kyle Grillot

A search and rescue dog is guided through properties after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. January 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Kyle Grillot

Ten people perished in January 2005 when a hillside saturated by weeks of torrential rains collapsed in the seaside hamlet of La Conchita, 18 miles (29 km) southeast of Montecito, burying more than a dozen homes in seconds.

The White House on Monday said that President Donald Trump had been briefed on the situation.

“The President and First Lady extend their deepest sympathies to the families affected, their appreciation for the first responders saving lives, and their prayers for those who remain missing,” the White House said in a statement.

Another 900 emergency personnel arrived this weekend to join the relief effort conducted by more than 2,100 personnel from local, state and federal agencies.

The destruction covered 30 square miles (78 square km), leaving 65 single-family homes demolished and more than 450 damaged. Nearly 30 commercial properties were damaged or destroyed, officials said.

As a precaution against further slides, officials have ordered residents in most of the southeastern corner of Montecito to leave their homes for what was likely to be one or two weeks.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker)

Twenty now dead in California mudslides, major highway closed

Rescue workers scour through cars for missing persons after a mudslide in Montecito.

By Caroline Anderson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The death toll from Southern California mudslides that swallowed dozens of homes and forced the closure of a major highway along the picturesque Santa Barbara County coast rose to 20 on Sunday, with four other people still reported missing.

Emergency officials said chances of finding more survivors in the ravaged landscape of hardened muck, boulders and other debris had waned considerably since heavy rains unleashed torrents of mud down hillsides before dawn last Tuesday.

Still, the 20 fatalities confirmed in and around the affluent community of Montecito, 85 miles (137 km) northwest of Los Angeles in the coastal slopes adjacent to Santa Barbara, ranks as the greatest loss of life from a California mudslide in at least 13 years.

The official death toll early on Saturday had stood at 19, with seven people listed as missing. Four remained unaccounted for on Sunday, including the 2-year-old daughter of the latest victim whose remains have been positively identified.

Ten people perished in January 2005 when a hillside saturated by weeks of torrential rains collapsed in the seaside hamlet of La Conchita, just 18 miles (29 km) southeast of Montecito, burying more than a dozen homes in seconds.

Unlike the La Conchita tragedy, the stage was set for Montecito’s slides by a massive wildfire last month — the largest on record in California — that stripped hillsides bare of any vegetation to hold soils in place following a day of drenching showers.

Another 900 emergency personnel arrived this weekend to join the relief effort conducted by more than 2,100 personnel from local, state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and the American Red Cross.

But authorities said on Sunday that the search-and-rescue mission had shifted into a “search-and-recovery” effort, reflecting the diminished likelihood of finding anyone else alive.

The destruction covered 30 square miles (78 square km), leaving 65 single-family homes demolished and more than 450 others damaged. Nearly 30 commercial properties were damaged or destroyed, officials said.

The slides also forced a 10-mile (16-km) stretch of one of California’s most celebrated coastal roads, the heavily traveled Highway 101, to be closed indefinitely.

The shutdown has posed a major traffic disruption, forcing motorists to drive 100 miles out of their way on back roads to commute around the closure, said Jim Shivers, a spokesman for the state transportation department.

He said parts of Highway 101 were under 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters) of water and mud. Cleanup crews were working around the clock in 12-hour shifts.

Seeking to ease the detour for commuters, ferry boats were making commuter runs twice a day between Santa Barbara and the town of Ventura to the south.

A community group formed in the aftermath of last month’s devastating Thomas Fire also began coordinating free airplane and helicopter rides for doctors and emergency personnel.

As a precaution against the possibility of further slides, officials have ordered residents in most of the southeastern corner of Montecito to leave their homes for what was likely to be one or two weeks.

(Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Sandra Maler)

Rescuers race against time to find missing in California mudslides

A home on Glen Oaks Road damaged by mudslides in Montecito, California, U.S., January 10, 2018.

By Rollo Ross and Alan Devall

SANTA BARBARA, Calif (Reuters) – Rescue crews in Southern California resumed on Thursday the arduous task of combing through tons of debris for survivors from deadly mudslides that struck along the state’s picturesque coastal communities.

Seventeen people are confirmed dead and another 17 people are missing after a wall of mud roared down hillsides in the scenic area between the Pacific Ocean and the Los Padres National Forest, according to authorities in Santa Barbara County.

“Right now, our assets are focused on determining if anyone is still alive in any of those structures that have been damaged,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told Los Angeles television station KCAL.

A kitchen in a home on Glen Oaks Road damaged by mudslides in Montecito, California, U.S., January 10, 2018.

A kitchen in a home on Glen Oaks Road damaged by mudslides in Montecito, California, U.S., January 10, 2018. Kenneth Song/Santa Barbara News-Press via REUTERS

Some 500 rescuers using search dogs, military helicopters, and thermal imaging equipment are on scene.

Search and rescue efforts have been slow as crews have to navigate through waist-deep mud, fallen trees, boulders and other debris.

“Another tough day in Santa Barbara County as Search and Rescue, Fire and Law Enforcement personnel from across our county and our neighboring counties searched for survivors and evacuated people,” the sheriff’s office said on its Twitter feed late Wednesday night.

The devastating mudslides, which were triggered by heavy rains early on Tuesday, roared into valleys denuded by historic wildfires that struck the area last month.

The debris flow from the mudslides has destroyed 100 homes, damaged hundreds of other structures and injured 28 people, said Amber Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

Among the damaged properties were historic hotels and the homes of celebrities including television personality Oprah Winfrey and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, who both live in the upscale hillside community of Montecito.

DeGeneres said on her talk showing airing Thursday that the picturesque town of 9,000 is a “tight-knit” community.

“It’s not just a wealthy community, it’s filled with a lot of different types of people from all backgrounds,” she said. “And there are families missing, there are people who are missing family members…it’s catastrophic.”

A car sits tangled in debris after being destroyed by mudslides in Montecito, California, U.S., January 10, 2018.

A car sits tangled in debris after being destroyed by mudslides in Montecito, California, U.S., January 10, 2018. Kenneth Song/Santa Barbara News-Press via REUTERS

Last month’s spate of wildfires, including the Thomas Fire – the largest in the state’s history – stripped hillsides of vegetation and left behind a slick film that prevented the ground from absorbing rainwater.

“First we got burned out at our ranch that caught on fire and now we’re flooding, so the last month has been pretty bad,” said Charles Stoops, as he stood in front of his house, which was surrounded in mud three feet (nearly a meter) deep.

(Additional reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Tom Brown, Leslie Adler, William Maclean)

At least six dead in Southern California flooding, mudslides

A search dog looks for victims in damaged homes after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018.

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – At least six people died and thousands fled their homes in Southern California on Tuesday as a powerful rainstorm triggered flash floods and mudslides on slopes where a series of intense wildfires had burned off protective vegetation last month.

The heavy downpours subsided early Tuesday after prompting evacuation orders for residents along the Pacific Coast north of Los Angeles, but forecasters warned of more rain throughout the day. Rainfall totals ranged from 2 inches to 4-1/2 inches (5 to 11 cm) in the area, said the National Weather Service.

At least six people died in the storm and mudslides in Santa Barbara County, the hardest-hit county in the region, incident command spokeswoman Amber Anderson said in a telephone interview. She did not specify the cause of the fatalities, but said they occurred in several locations in Santa Barbara where there were mudslides.

The threat of mudslides prompted the county to order 7,000 residents to leave their homes before the rains came and to urge 23,000 others to evacuate voluntarily.

Boulders block a road after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018.

Boulders block a road after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout via REUTERS

The county set up an evacuation shelter at Santa Barbara City College, and also gave residents a place to take their animals. The weather in Southern California was mild this week, so residents who fled their homes did not have to endure the cold snap that has gripped the U.S. Midwest and East Coast in recent weeks.

A neighborhood in the upscale community of Montecito, where mudslides ravaged homes near the city of Santa Barbara, residents had not been put under mandatory evacuation orders before mud from a creek cascaded toward their homes, Anderson said.

But she could not immediately say whether any of the fatalities were in the area that was not evacuated.

An unknown number of people in the county were unaccounted for, Anderson said, and 25 residents have been injured.

Photos posted by the local fire department showed a teenager covered in black mud being led away from the rubble of a house that had been destroyed by the Montecito mudslide. She had been trapped in the home for hours before rescuers came to her aid, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department said on Twitter.

Other pictures showed ankle-deep mud, logs and boulders in residential areas.

Emergency workers, using search dogs and helicopters, have rescued dozens of people stranded in rubble, Anderson said.

Emergency personnel search through debris and damaged homes after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018.

Emergency personnel search through debris and damaged homes after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout via REUTERS

Last month’s wildfires, the largest in California history, left the area vulnerable to mudslides. The fires burned away grass and shrubs that hold the soil in place, and also baked a waxy layer into the earth which prevents water from sinking deeply into the ground.

The overnight rains forced road closures, including a 30-mile (48-km) stretch of U.S. Highway 101, essentially cutting off traffic between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties northwest of Los Angeles. Ventura County escaped with little damage, the county sheriff’s office said.

(Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)

Thousands in California flee homes ahead of possible mudslides

California wildfire fight aided by better weather

(Reuters) – Thousands of Southern Californians fled their homes on Monday as a powerful rain storm that could cause flash floods and trigger mudslides soaked steep slopes where a series of intense wildfires burned off vegetation last month.

Heavy downpours that could produce more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) of rain per hour were expected through Tuesday evening, forcing officials to order or advise Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles county residents who live near where wildfires burned to evacuated their homes.

“Recent burn areas will be especially vulnerable where dangerous mud and debris flows are possible,” the National Weather Service said in a statement.

Several December wildfires, included a blaze known as the Thomas Fire which was the largest in the state’s history, burned away vegetation that holds the soil in place and baked a waxy layer into the earth that prevents water from sinking deeply into the ground.

About 30,000 residents were under evacuation orders or advisories on Monday, ABC news reported.

“I’m just tired. I can’t seem to get my life kick-started,” Teri Lebow, whose Montecito, California was damaged by the wildfires, told the Los Angeles Times.

The storm system was expected to produce 4 inches to 7 inches (10 to 18 cm) in the foothills and mountains with 9 inches (23 cm) in isolated areas. Three inches (7 cm) to two feet (61 cm) of snow was also forecast for higher elevations, the National Weather Service said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)