By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) – Motorists swam for their lives and residents were rescued from homes sliding downhill as the wettest winter storm of the year triggered floods and mudslides across California on Thursday.
In Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, a mudslide carried away two homes and engulfed five cars, sending one woman to the hospital, Southern Marin Fire Department tweeted. Dozens of homes were evacuated in the area.
In Cabazon, about 84 miles (135 km) east of Los Angeles, two motorists swam from their vehicle and were rescued by helicopter after their car was engulfed by churning brown floodwaters, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman said.
“We’ve had multiple water rescues throughout the day, I think today our helicopter is up to about a dozen,” said CalFire spokesman Richard Cordova. “We haven’t seen rain like this in 10 years.”
Three Delta Air Lines passengers suffered minor injuries when severe turbulence shook a flight headed from southern California to Seattle on Wednesday, according to authorities.
The moisture-rich tropical storm, known as an atmospheric river, has lashed Northern California with rain and snow since late Tuesday. The moisture flow, nicknamed the “Pineapple Express” for its origin near Hawaii, unleashed its full force overnight.
Power lines, trees and car-sized boulders littered roads in San Diego County and flash flood warnings were in place after regions like Palomar Mountain got nearly 10 inches (25 cm) of rain, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
WILDFIRE AREAS AT RISK
To the north, Venado, a town near San Francisco famed for its rainfall, got more than one foot of precipitation over 48 hours.
Areas, particularly at risk, were those that suffered deadly wildfires in the last two years, leaving scorched hillsides devoid of vegetation and prone to collapse.
Residents in Northern California’s Butte County – where the Camp fire killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures last year – were told to leave their homes over concerns a creek could overflow and flood communities.
Hundreds of people in Lake Elsinore, 56 miles east of Los Angeles, got mandatory evacuation orders on fears hillsides scorched by the 2018 Holy Fire could turn into debris flows.
To the north Redding, the town devastated by the Carr Fire in 2018, was hit with around 14 inches of snow that shut down Interstate 5 south of the Oregon border and knocked out power to thousands of customers.
A couple more feet of snow was expected to fall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California through Friday, said NWS meteorologist Hannah Chandler-Cooley in Sacramento.
(Reporting by Rich McKay; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)