Heavy rains pounding Southern California for a second day caused flooding and loosened hillsides as officials in fire-ravaged communities warned people to stay off roads over fears of destructive mud flows.
Water and debris in lanes shut down coastal U.S. 101 and traffic accidents on rain-slicked roadways across the region slowed the Tuesday morning commute to a crawl.
Several inches of rain fell in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, where thousands of residents evacuated over fears of mudslides in areas where the state’s largest-ever fire raged last month.
“Creeks that normally would be dry would turn into raging rivers of mud and debris and large rocks and trees,” said Robert Lewin, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management. “These can be quite damaging. They’ll destroy roads, they’ll take out homes.”
Forecasters issued flash flood warnings and predicted that the cold front with powerful winds could bring higher rain totals to downtown Los Angeles than seen in the past 10 months. Mandatory evacuations were ordered for about 700 homes in former burn areas of Los Angeles County.
A winter weather advisory was in place for mountain areas, where officials warned motorists to prepare for difficult travel conditions, including gusty winds, low visibility and snow-covered roads
Flash flood watches were also issued for parts of Sonoma and Mendocino counties north of San Francisco, warning that the rains that were saturating the area Monday night could trigger mudslides in areas devastated by October wildfires.
The blazes leveled entire neighborhoods, killing 44 people and destroying more than 8,900 homes and other buildings.
A years long drought eased in the state last spring, but Northern California had a dry start to winter and hardly any measurable rain fell in the south over the past six months. The extremely dry conditions and high winds last year led to some of the most destructive blazes on both ends of the state.
Now, the storm coming in from the Gulf of Alaska could dump up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain on Northern California areas still recovering from fires before clearing up by Tuesday evening, National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Anderson said.
In the foothills just northeast of Los Angeles, residents placed sandbags outside houses that survived a December fire that scorched more than 24 square miles (62 square kilometers), destroyed 60 homes and damaged 55 others.
The weather service also issued a winter weather advisory for portions of the Sierra Nevada above 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), forecasting about 4 to 7 inches (10 to 18 centimeters) of snow and up to 1 to 2 feet (30 to 61 centimeters) on higher peaks Tuesday.
(Associated Press writers Christopher Weber and John Antczak in Los Angeles, Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco, and Eric Risberg in Santa Rosa contributed to this report.)