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Death toll rises to nine in California storms as mudslides ravage Los Angeles

US Marine Corps helicopter went missing during severe storm, en-route to San Diego base

Louise Boyle
Wednesday 07 February 2024 22:33 GMT
Rain erodes California cliff prompting evacuation of nearby residences

The death toll has increased to nine people during a massive, atmospheric river-driven storm in California as public officials warned people it was too soon to let their guard down.

The storm, which has unleashed biblical proportions of rain this week, was expected to continue until Thursday or Friday.

Four people were killed by falling trees, the California Office of Emergency Management said. Three were killed in vehicle collisions in the Bay area, and another fatality was due to a vehicle being swept away in a flood channel. One person lost their life by trying to cross the US-Mexico border via the Tijuana River.

Search and rescue crews are looking for a US Marine Corps helicopter which disappeared en route to San Diego on Tuesday night as the severe storm battered the region. The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, which had five Marines on board, was reported “overdue” after it failed to arrive at Miramar Air Station from Las Vegas, Nevada.

Public officials warned residents to be prepared for more rain and mountain snow on Wednesday afternoon and evening. More than 400 landslides have sent thick rivers of mud through the streets of Los Angeles leaving an unknown number of homes and vehicles badly damaged.

In the Beverly Crest area, firefighters responded to a heavy debris flow on Sunday night, evacuating seven homes. Six adults and nine children were rescued from the scene, according to the LAFD. Vehicles remained in driveways with mud and water reaching up the windshields. Houses stood empty with the lights on, their occupants in too much of a rush to turn them off before evacuating.

In an aerial view, a mudslide leads to a home where it smashed through its garage as a historic atmospheric river storm inundates the Studio City section of Los Angeles (AFP via Getty Images)

“It was mayhem,” Jill Shinefield, one resident, told The Independent. “We’ve lived here 23 years, we’ve never, not even remotely, had anything like this before.”

The neighbourhood is an affluent one, with properties exceeding several million dollars lining either side of the steep, winding road. According to one resident, popstar Taylor Swift used to own one of the houses on the street.

Floodwaters pour into Pacific Ocean after record rainfall drenches California (Accuweather)

Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass asked residents to be prepared, and warned about the risk of saturated hillsides. “We cannot drop our guard,” she said.

She said the city was looking toward helping people recover and officials will seek federal emergency money to help move homeless people out of shelters and to aid owners of damaged hillside homes where insurance companies wouldn’t cover the losses. But counting the damaged homes might take a while, she warned at a Tuesday evening news conference.

“The hillsides are soaked, some of them are still moving,” Bass said. “So hopefully no more homes will be damaged, but it’s too early to tell.”

The storm led to one of the wettest three-day periods in southern California’s record, totalling 8.51 inches between Sunday and Tuesday, the National Weather Service reported.

In the wealthy county of Santa Barbara, a cliffside collapse under an apartment building in Isla Vista led to the evacuation of dozens of people on Tuesday.

Five million gallons of raw sewage has spilled into the Pacific ocean as a result of heavy flooding, according to officials. Long Beach City Health Officer, Dr Anissa Davis, ordered all recreational swimming areas temporarily closed for water contact due to two separate sewage spills.

The storm is another sign that with each incremental uptick in global heat, the consequences are becoming severe. Multiple studies have found that atmospheric rivers in California are up to 15 per cent wetter due to the climate crisis, the nonprofit Climate Signals reported.

“Although 15 per cent may not seem like a lot, that extra precipitation can sometimes mean the difference between no flooding at all or flood water entering into a home or overtopping a levy, due to limitations in infrastructure that was not designed to operate in a world unnaturally warmed by human-caused climate change,” the science team said.

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