Storm brings flood fears to Southern California burn areas

LOS ANGELES – Authorities are keeping a worried eye on fire-scarred hillsides in Southern California after a storm brought flooding fears and prompted evacuation orders for hundreds of homes. Thursday's storm brought record-breaking rainfall to downtown Los Angeles, jammed major roads with mud, rain or snow and sent a landing airliner skidding off a runway. … Continue reading “Storm brings flood fears to Southern California burn areas”

LOS ANGELES – Authorities are keeping a worried eye on fire-scarred hillsides in Southern California after a storm brought flooding fears and prompted evacuation orders for hundreds of homes.

Thursday's storm brought record-breaking rainfall to downtown Los Angeles, jammed major roads with mud, rain or snow and sent a landing airliner skidding off a runway.

A mudslide shut down roads in and around Malibu neighborhoods charred by a massive wildfire last month.

However, no major injuries were reported.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Los Angeles-adjacent counties ravaged by a summer wildfire. Evacuation orders remain in place Friday for Trabuco Canyon in Orange County and the Lake Elsinore area east of Los Angeles.

Forecasters say it will be warmer and drier before another storm moves in next week.

The Latest: Some evacuation orders lifted in California

LOS ANGELES – The Latest on a Southern California storm that raised flood fears in burn areas (all times local):

10:30 p.m.

Authorities are keeping a worried eye on fire-scarred hillsides in Southern California after a storm brought flooding fears and prompted evacuation orders for hundreds of homes.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Los Angeles-adjacent counties ravaged by a summer wildfire. Evacuation orders remain in place Friday for Trabuco Canyon in Orange County and for several neighborhoods in the Lake Elsinore area east of Los Angeles. Other Elsinore areas had the mandatory evacuations downgraded to voluntary evacuation warnings as the storm eased.

Forecasters say it will be warmer and drier before another storm moves in next week.

Thursday's storm brought record-breaking rainfall to downtown Los Angeles, jammed major roads with mud, rain or snow and sent a landing airliner skidding off a runway.

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Authorities are keeping a worried eye on fire-scarred hillsides in Southern California after a storm brought flooding fears and prompted evacuation orders for hundreds of homes.

Thursday's storm brought record-breaking rainfall to downtown Los Angeles, jammed major roads with mud, rain or snow and sent a landing airliner skidding off a runway.

A mudslide shut down roads in and around Malibu neighborhoods charred by a massive wildfire last month.

However, no major injuries were reported.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Los Angeles-adjacent counties ravaged by a summer wildfire. Evacuation orders remain in place Friday for Trabuco Canyon in Orange County and the Lake Elsinore area east of Los Angeles.

Forecasters say it will be warmer and drier before another storm moves in next week.

Residents head back into California town leveled by wildfire

PARADISE, Calif. – Nearly four weeks after the devastating blaze leveled her town, Jennifer Christensen was allowed back to return to her home in Paradise, where the first thing she saw was her son's charred tricycle in the front yard.

Christensen was among hundreds of residents who were allowed back into neighborhoods on the east side of town for the first time since the Nov. 8 blaze, which killed at least 85 people and destroyed about 14,000 homes.

"It's unbelievable. You know, I never thought it would happen to me," said Christensen, 34, surveying how little was left. She had moved to Paradise about a year ago and lived with a couple that were like grandparents to her son. "Everything I worked so hard for is gone."

The first thing she saw as she pulled in was her 2-year-old son's tricycle, its tires melted and its steel frame charred. She found a safe with melted jewelry inside. She found remnants of porcelain dolls that her grandmother had given her every year for Christmas.

"I lost my kid's handprints and footprints from when he was born," she said. "This is all stuff that can't be replaced."

Some residents have been allowed back into nearby communities in the fire zone, but Wednesday marked the first time residents of Paradise got to see firsthand what was left of their town of 27,000 people, which was hit the hardest by the blaze.

Paradise Police Chief Eric Reinbold said that areas home to 4,700 people were reopened but it wasn't clear how many people were there. Many survivors have scattered to homes of friends and family in other parts of California.

More than 50,000 people in Paradise and the neighboring communities of Magalia and Concow were forced to quickly flee the towering, wind-driven flames that charred an area about the size of Chicago — 240 square miles (622 square kilometers) — and became the deadliest U.S. wildfire in at least a century. Authorities said 10 people were still unaccounted for.

Earlier in the day, a long line of cars waited in a cold drizzle at a checkpoint to enter areas where evacuation orders had been lifted.

Crews in yellow slickers were still clearing debris from burned homes and removing trees from streets littered with melted plastic trash cans and hollowed vehicles on tireless rims.

The communities will have very limited services for the immediate future, and authorities urged returning residents to bring food, water and fuel for vehicles.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesman Dennis MacAleese said the utility has 4,000 people in the area working to restore electric and gas service to those who can receive it. He said the utility hopes to restore electrical service by the end of the month and gas by the first quarter of next year.

Residents returning Wednesday were given kits with gloves and hazmat suits and warned that they should not move back into homes until ash and hazardous waste have been cleared, and that rain could increase the risk of flash floods and mudslides.

Rebecca Rogers of Chico came to support Christensen, a friend, as she sifted through the remains of her belongings.

Rogers believes she found the remains of Christensen's cat, Marble, under what used to be her friend's bed.

"I don't want her to look. It's just too much, it's just too much," Rogers said, sobbing. "I've got to be strong. I've got to do this for her."

Rogers buried the cat's remains in the front yard.

Residents were warned they should not move back into homes until ash and hazardous waste have been cleared, and that rain could increase the risk of flash floods and mudslides.

Christensen said she is not sure of her future plans but feels so much loyalty for her town that recently she got a tattoo that reads, "Love is thicker than smoke," and below that on her arm: "Paradise Strong."

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Rodriguez reported from San Francisco.

California floods recede after storms in wildfire burn areas

SAN FRANCISCO – Flash flood waters receded after heavy downpours inundated roads and forced evacuations in a wildfire-scarred area of Northern California.

Swift water rescue teams used boats to save people from three homes Thursday in Chico.

Officials told people in about 100 vehicles to stay in place until water levels went down. Streets were filled with sticky mud and debris and downed trees and power poles littered the landscape.

In Southern California, authorities ordered evacuations in a small Malibu community within a wildfire burn zone where a mudslide blocked streets amid the heavy rains.

No major damage was reported by the time flood warnings and watches expired.

The Latest: Rain causes wrecks on Los Angeles-area freeways

SAN FRANCISCO – The Latest on rain in California in regions scarred by wildfires (all times local):

7:20 a.m.

The first major storm of the season has jammed Los Angeles-area freeways with accidents but so far there have been no major problems in Southern California wildfire burn zones where there is concern about mudslides.

The National Weather Service says rainfall early Thursday was more variable than initially forecast, but some areas have received several inches and localized flood advisories and watches were issued.

In the vast area burned this month by a destructive fire, the city of Malibu is warning that minor mud and debris flows are possible, and some rocks have fallen onto roads through the Santa Monica Mountains.

Rain is expected to continue through the afternoon, with the possibility of thunderstorms.

The weather service also warns of dangerous surf conditions along the shoreline. Breakers along the central coast are expected to grow to as much as 20 feet (6.1 meters) Thursday morning.

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7 a.m.

A storm moving through California largely missed wildfire-burned areas but officials say a flash flood watch has been extended as rain could still reach the flood-prone spots.

The National Weather Service says Thursday that its watch was extended to sunset for possible flash flooding and debris flows from areas scarred by major fires throughout the state.

It was originally set to expire in the morning but was extended because the threat for stronger rain will linger across much of Northern California.

The storm is moving into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, which could get 12 inches (30 centimeters) of snow at lower elevations and up to 20 inches (51 inches) at higher elevations.

Crews cleared drainage ways and removed burned trees that could topple in the area of Paradise, a town devastated by the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century.

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12 a.m.

A storm moving into California is bringing rain that threatens to unleash debris flows in wildfire burn areas and snow that could cause travel problems on mountain roads.

The weather service issued a watch Thursday for possible flash flooding in areas scarred by major blazes throughout the state.

Crews cleared drainage ways and removed burned trees that could topple in the area of Paradise, a northern town devastated by the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century. Up to an inch of rain is expected there.

In Southern California, residents are urged to voluntarily evacuate neighborhoods southeast of Los Angeles where a fire burned last summer. Mandatory evacuations are in the city of Lake Elsinore.

New Orleans looks underground as parts of city slowly sink

NEW ORLEANS – “I know where I live,” said Keith Daggett.

Daggett’s home sits by the London Avenue Canal. The floodwall along the canal breached during Hurricane Katrina more than 13 years ago. An outdoor exhibition now stands at the site of the devastation, marking the flooding caused by the failures of the canal.

“Yes, there is a flood risk here,” said Daggett, who recently moved to the neighborhood.

Tulane University environmental sciences professor Alex Kolker reiterated that the future of the area looks dire.

“The neighborhood lies eight to 10 feet below the canal, and that’s an enormous flood risk,” said Kolker.

Hydrogeologists said the city sinks 6 to 8 mm a year. A large part of the city is already below sea level, and the Gentilly neighborhood, where Daggett lives, is one of the fastest sinking areas.

Dutch-based company Deltares drilling in New Orleans. It’s part of a bigger project to make the city resilient in relation to climate change and sea level rise.  (Deltares)

Kolker is part of a team of researchers, which includes Dutch-based research institute Deltares and the Water Institute of the Gulf, trying to figure out which sections of the city are sinking, how fast, and why. They say subsidence was one reason why Katrina was catastrophic. Water flooded the low-lying areas and had to be pumped out.

“After having experienced the damaged city in 2006 and working there all those years after, New Orleans became part of me. This project helps to collect the missing information needed to take appropriate measures to ensure the [city] is a safe place in the future in relation to sea level rise and changing climate dynamics,” said Roelof Stuurman, a water specialist at Deltares.

The city-led project called “Reshaping the Urban Delta” is being funded by a $141.3 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It largely focuses on the city’s subsurface.

As the first comprehensive resilience district in the Gentilly neighborhood, the city said, the project includes over $90 Million in urban water management projects that largely focus on the city’s subsurface.

“We cannot manage what we don’t understand; so the first step is to ground truth the assumptions we’ve made from past studies and build upon the best available science,” said Tyler Antrup, urban water program manager from the city’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability.

Experts theorize the underlying geology could be one reason for the sinking, also known as subsidence.

Homes by the London Avenue Canal in New Orleans sit eight to 10 feet below the canal, a flood risk for residents in the area.  (Fox News)

“There’s a whole bunch of old swamps beneath the city of New Orleans and when these swamps dry out the ground they take compact and compress and the ground above them sinks,” said Kolker.

Cracked pipes could also play a part.

“Water and mud can flow into them and erode the ground around them. And then you'd create a hole, and that hole is almost a sinkhole,” added Kolker.

Stuurman believes managing the way water flows in and around the city could mitigate the rate of subsidence. Last week, Deltares led a group on several soil drilling operations around the city taking sediment samples, the first step of this study.

“The objective was to determine the ‘mean lowest groundwater level’ and the amount of organic material in the soil and clay saturation because these determine the subsidence risk,” said Stuurman.

New Orleans is not alone in this ordeal. Tokyo and even parts of the Houston-Galveston area have sunk as well, particularly in the middle of the 20th century.

The project will take about 18 months, culminating with the design and installation of an integrated water monitoring network.  (Tulane University)

“There, they did take a lot of effort to better monitor the rate at which they pulled out ground water. And, that did help slow the subsidence in (the Houston-Galveston area),” said Kolker.

Researchers said there’s an added sense of urgency as storms, especially in the Gulf Coast region, are expected to become stronger, thanks to climate change.

“New Orleans is one of the most vulnerable cities in the United States [due] to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. As we see more frequent and intense rainfall events, we have to adapt by living with water, reducing the subsidence of our soils, and preserving the quality of life and culture of our City,” said Antrup.

The entire study will take about 18 months, culminating with the design and installation of an integrated water monitoring network.

“Knowing that they are at least addressing the problem, to whatever degree,” Daggett said, “does give me some comfort.”

Madeleine Rivera is a multimedia reporter based in Houston, Texas.