California floods: thousands without power, boy swept away

LOS ANGELES — As another powerful storm hit California, a 5-year-old boy was swept away by flood waters on the state’s central coast on Monday, and an entire coastal community home to Prince Harry, Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities was ordered to evacuate the fifth anniversary of the deadly mudslides there.

Tens of thousands of people were left without power, and some schools closed for the day. Roads and highways turned into raging rivers, trees fell, mud slid and motorists snarled as they encountered roadblocks caused by falling debris. The death toll from the relentless series of storms rose from 12 to 14 on Monday after two people were killed by falling trees, state officials said.

A search for the missing boy for about seven hours turned up only his shoe before officials broke it off because the water level was too dangerous for divers, officials said. The boy has not been pronounced dead, said spokesman Tony Cipolla for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office.

The boy’s mother was driving a truck when he was stranded in flood waters just before 8 a.m. near Paso Robles, a small inland town on California’s central coast, according to Tom Swanson, deputy chief of the Cal Fire/San Luis Obispo Fire Department County.

Bystanders were able to pull the mother out of the truck, but the boy was swept out of the vehicle and downriver, likely into a river, Swanson said. At the time, there was no evacuation order for the area.

About 209 kilometers south, the entire community of Montecito and surrounding canyons, scarred by recent wildfires, were under an evacuation order issued on the fifth anniversary of a mudslide that killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 homes on the coast became enclave.

The National Weather Service reported precipitation rates of 2.5 centimeters per hour, with torrential downpours expected throughout the night in the upscale area, where roads wind along forested hills dotted with large houses. Nestled between mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Montecito is home to celebrities such as Rob Lowe and Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Ellen DeGeneres shared one Instagram video of herself standing in front of a raging creek near the Montecito house where she lives with her wife, actress Portia de Rossi. She said in the post they were told to protect themselves on the spot because they are on high ground.

“That’s crazy!” says the talk show host, who is wearing a hoodie and a raincoat, in the video. “That creek next to our house never, ever flows. It’s probably about nine feet tall and will go another two feet.

Jamie McLeod’s property was under the Montecito evacuation order, but she said there was no way for her to “get off the mountain” with a rushing stream on one side and a mudslide on the other. The Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary owner, 60, said one of her employees came in to deliver groceries weekly and was also stuck.

McLeod said she feels lucky because her house is on a hill and the electricity is still on. But she said she’s tired of frequent evacuation orders since the massive wildfire that followed the deadly landslide five years ago.

“It’s not easy moving,” McLeod said. “I absolutely love it — except in disaster.”

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the decision to evacuate nearly 10,000 people was “based on the persistently high rate of precipitation, with no sign of that changing before nightfall.” Streams overflowed and many streets were flooded.

Lanes of northbound US 101, a major coastal highway, were expected to close by Tuesday. Many other freeways and local roads were closed due to rock falls and flooding.

Evacuation orders have been issued for about 32,000 residents living near rain-swollen rivers and streams along the coast in Santa Cruz County. The San Lorenzo River was declared in flood and drone footage showed numerous homes sitting in muddy brown water with the top halves of cars peeking out.

Maria Cucchiara, who lives in tiny, flooded Felton, went for a walk to count her blessings after “a giant branch harpooned the roof of her little studio,” she said.

“I have two kittens and we could have been killed. It was over a ton,” she said. “Needless to say, it was very unsettling.”

Nicole Martin, owner of Fern River Resort in Felton, described a more relaxed scene on Monday. Her customers sipped coffee amidst towering redwood trees and “enjoyed the show,” she said, as picnic tables and other debris floated down the swollen San Lorenzo.

The river is usually about 18 meters below the huts, Martin said, but it crept up to 12 feet (4 meters) from the huts.

In Northern California, several counties closed schools and more than 35,000 customers were left without power in Sacramento — down from more than 350,000 the day before after 60-mph gusts threw majestic trees into power lines, according to the Sacramento Municipal Utility county . A homeless man killed by a falling tree in the area was among the new deaths announced Monday.

The National Weather Service warned of a “relentless parade of atmospheric fluxes” — long plumes of moisture that stretch into the Pacific and can drop prodigious amounts of rain and snow. Rainfall expected over the next few days comes after storms cut power, flooded roads and battered the coast last week.

President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration Monday to support storm response and relief efforts in more than a dozen counties.

The Weather Service issued a flood warning for much of northern and central California, with 6 to 12 inches of rain expected through Wednesday in the already saturated Sacramento region foothills.

There was a potential for up to 20 inches of rain in the foothills in the Los Angeles area late Monday and Tuesday. High surf was also expected.

Much of California continues to suffer from severe to extreme drought, although the storms have helped fill in depleted reservoirs.

– Associated Press journalists Janie Har and Olga R. Rodriguez of San Francisco, Amy Taxin of Orange County, Nic Coury of Aptos, Martha Mendoza of Santa Cruz, and Haven Daley of Felton contributed to this report.

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