A powerful storm slammed Southern California on Tuesday, causing flash floods in burn areas and leading to emergency evacuations as firefighters looked for possible victims in the Los Angeles River.
A mandatory evacuation was ordered in several neighborhoods in Orange County, including Silverado, Modjeska and Williams Canyon as heavy rain flooded neighborhoods, triggering muddy debris from the “burn scar” left behind from the Bond Fire that burned more than 6,600 acres last year.
Video posted by Orange County Fire Authority showed a fast-moving mud flow rushing through the neighborhood as firefighters helped trapped residents out of their homes.
“That area that burned does not have a lot of vegetation yet that has regrown, so it makes it very susceptible to debris flow,” said Casey Oswang, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego. “When flash flooding occurs, it’s essentially a wall of water rushing through the area, and the particular danger is with the debris flow and mud that will take over anything that’s in its path.”
As the heavy rain brought almost 3-5 inches in some areas in Los Angeles County, three vehicles somehow ended up in the Los Angeles River and floated toward the Washington Bridge.
Nicholas Prange, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, said crews found one of the cars wedged against a column of the bridge at about 7:30 a.m., but fast-moving water from the river made it impossible to see if anyone was still in the vehicle.
As crews were waiting for the river water to subside, they noticed two other vehicles in the river, Prange said.
“We’re waiting for the water to recede to safely try to clear the river and recover the first car,” Prange said on Tuesday afternoon. “We still have not located any driver or any other victims. And as we were doing that, two more cars floated by and went down the river and headed to the neighboring jurisdiction of L.A. County. So far, we have not recovered any victims who might have been in the three vehicles.”
In a separate incident, a 26-year old man was swept into a covered channel of the Los Angeles River near Sylmar High School, but he was able to maintain cell phone communication with emergency dispatchers. Prange said the man was able to get out and was evaluated by firefighter-paramedics for minor trauma and mild hypothermia.
David Gomberg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, said some isolated areas in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Counties received up to 7 inches of rain.
“I would say the heaviest of the rain has gone through but there is one other band headed to Ventura County right now,” Gomberg said. “The biggest impact at this point will be on the Interstate Highway 5 in the Grapevine area. We just placed a call to those folks up there to give them a heads up that they will start seeing snow and showers up there.”