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Record-setting rainfall in California claims 3 lives and leaves homes in peril

A first responder helps a resident evacuate from a neighborhood after a mudslide, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, in the Beverly Crest area of Los Angeles.
Marcio Jose Sanchez
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AP
A first responder helps a resident evacuate from a neighborhood after a mudslide, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, in the Beverly Crest area of Los Angeles.

Updated February 6, 2024 at 12:48 AM ET

President Biden promised Monday to send aid to California as the state's residents endured a record-setting and deadly rainfall that triggered dangerous mudslides and power outages.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass on Monday declared a local emergency, to "ensure that the city has the required resources to respond to the storm now, but also in the recovery period."

As of Monday evening, downtown L.A. saw more than 7 inches of rain, shattering the previous daily rainfall record of 2.55 inches set in 1927. Sunday was also the 10th wettest day in L.A. history.

"With unprecedented rain came unprecedented preparation, and now comes unprecedented response," Bass noted.

While touring a damaged neighborhood in Studio City the mayor added, "Even when the rains die down, there's still possibilities of significant damage. And we want people to, one, stay inside. This crisis is not over with yet."

During a later news conference on Monday evening, the mayor Bass residents to stay indoors. She then took a phone call from President Joe Biden, who promised to send help to the soggy state.

Bass held up her cell phone so reporters could hear Biden as he called the city's response "one hell of an operation!"

The president added: "We'll get any help on the way as soon as you guys request it, so just let me know. That's why I'm calling."

At least three people died from fallen tree incidents as more than 200,000 residents remained without power Monday night.

The fatalities all occurred in Northern California on Sunday, the same day Gov. Gavin Newsome declared a state of emergency in eight counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

Chad Ensey, a 41-year-old man from Carmichael, was killed by a falling tree, a Sacramento County spokesman confirmed to ABC 10.

David Gomes, an 82-year-old from Yuba City, suffered a similar death. The news station said officials believe Gomes may have been on a ladder, attempting to clear a tree from his home when he died.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office told NBC News that a Boulder Creek resident had sustained fatal injuries after a tree fell on their home, trapping them inside. The identity of the victim has not been released.

Meteorologists and local officials have warned residents in Los Angeles and beyond to prepare for potentially life-threatening conditions as the storm moves south.

This is one of the most dramatic weather days in recent memory," the National Weather Service said in an online update Sunday night. "The current focus for the most dangerous portion of this system has now shifted to LA County where multiple flash flood warnings are in effect."

The storm, which the National Weather Service has categorized as an atmospheric river, is currently parked over Los Angeles and Ventura counties, dumping a record amount of rain on the region.

The NWS estimates that 5 to 1o inches of rain has fallen over much of the area and has consequently issued flash-flood advisories.

"Expect widespread flooding of roadways and small streams as well as additional debris flows and rock/mudslide activity," NWS alerted residents on X.

Sixteen residents were evacuated from the same street as mud, rocks, floodwater and other debris rushed through two homes. Officials have since red-tagged both houses, rendering them uninhabitable, KTLA reported.

LAist reported that "as of noon Monday, the L.A. Fire Department had rescued trapped motorists, responded to 130 flooding incidents, and 49 reports involving mud and debris flows."

Los Angeles Fire Chief Kristin Crowley said the constant rain has saturated hillsides, causing more than 120 mudslides and debris flows across the city.

The Los Angeles Fire Department rescued a man who had jumped into the Los Angeles river after his dog had been swept up in the current. The dog managed to escape the rapids by swimming the cement shore, but LAFD officials had to air lift the man out of the water to safety.

Outside of Los Angeles, in Long Beach a portion of the 405 freeway was flooded by about a foot of water.

Heavy showers and thunderstorms combined with "very dangerous" windsalso increased the chances of potentially dangerous flash flooding and rough surf, with flood watches in effect across the area.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on Sunday in eight Southern California counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

"California: this is a serious storm with dangerous and potentially life-threatening impacts. Please pay attention to any emergency orders or alerts from local officials," Newsom said in a statement.

A man carrying an umbrella stands perched above a flooded street in Ventura, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.
Eugene Garcia / AP
/
AP
A man holding an umbrella stands perched above a flooded street in Ventura, Calif., on Feb. 4.

Officials ordered residents in parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties to evacuate, LAist reported. Part of San José, in Santa Clara County, was also under a mandatory evacuation order.

California's Office of Emergency Services said it had pre-positioned fire engines, personnel and other resources in multiple counties to help respond to the storm when it arrived.

San Diego County was giving people sandbags and sand that could be used to protect against flooding, and state officials were urging residents to travel only if absolutely necessary.

Atmospheric rivers are narrow bands that transport water vapor from the tropics to the U.S. West Coast. When they are especially windy and filled with large amounts of water vapor, atmospheric rivers can unleash extreme weather.

Officials in Santa Barbara said early Sunday that heavy rainfall was on the way but strong winds had already arrived. The NWS predicted wind gusts upward of 60 to 70 miles per hour that could topple trees and cause power outages.

Waves crash over a breakwater in Alameda, Calif., with the San Francisco skyline in the background on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.
Noah Berger / AP
/
AP
Waves crash over a breakwater in Alameda, Calif., with the San Francisco skyline in the background on Feb. 4.

Potentially life-threatening flooding would likely also be widespread, officials warned. Coastal flooding was possible, and flash flooding was predicted for parts of the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys on Sunday as well as in upslope portions of the Sierra Nevada.

Snow could also begin in some areas late Monday, and the rain and strong winds brought by the storm were expected to last through Tuesday night in many areas.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez
Vanessa Romo
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.