LOS ANGELES — Emergency crews shoveled mud from a section of Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles after flash flood debris blocked the important highway, stranded hundreds of vehicles, and forced some motorists to take refuge on top of their cars. After removing the debris, a geologist will check the stability of nearby slopes before the freeway is reopened, California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Lauren Wonder said earlier. “There could always be more slide that comes down onto the road,” she said. “Our engineers are always very careful so they make sure in a flood situation, any hillside is secure.” The National Weather Service said a flash flood watch would be in effect again Friday afternoon and early evening for the mountains and deserts because of the threat of more severe and slow-moving thunderstorms, which raises the potential for flash floods and debris flows.
Excavator trucks scooped and hauled away mud in the darkness Thursday night with the cleanup expected to continue well into Friday, leaving thousands of drivers searching for alternative routes. There were no reports of deaths or injuries from the flooding Thursday at Fort Tejon, about 75 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, brought on by a storm system that produced heavy rainfall across the region.
The Los Angeles Times reported that some 45 firefighters responded to the scene of the mudslides and flooding, working to free drivers who were stranded in their cars. The rushing water, which was triggered by several inches (cm) of rain an hour over the foothill communities, forced the California Highway Patrol to close parts of the busy Interstate 5 freeway in both directions through the Grapevine pass.
Robert Rocha, a 37-year-old resident, said he was driving home from work when the storm arrived. “It was getting pretty hairy out there,” he said. “I’ve never seen it rain that hard in such a short period of time, the hail and wind — it was coming down hard,” he said. “The debris was just intense — chunks of wood and rock flowing everywhere.” Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Cleanup by Los Angeles emergency crews using excavators and trucks is expected to take much of Friday, with the section of the highway likely expected to be closed until mid afternoon.
This short burst of heavy rain will not be enough to break the on-going 4-year drought, but it could be a sign of things to come over the next few months. Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Centre said “a strong El Nino is in place and should exert a strong influence over our weather this winter.” Unusually heavy winter rain is possible across much of the southern US and moisture-laden storms are expected to reach not only California’s coast, as previously predicted, but inland mountain ranges, with the potential to replenish depleted snow reserves that are key to the state’s water supply. Officials have not said when the Interstate and other highway will be opened, as the lanes need to be cleared and a geologists needs to check nearby slopes for stability. One of the most extreme rainfall reports came from a weather station southwest of Lancaster, Calif., which tallied 2.99 inches of rain in just 30 minutes Thursday afternoon, the Weather Channel reported. The storm was instigated by a low pressure system absorbing moisture from the south and sparked severe weather and flash flood warnings across southwestern California.