At least 4 people have died in California due to severe storms, power outages and flooding

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California officials ordered evacuations in a high-risk coastal area where a 2018 mudslide killed 23 people as a powerful storm lashed the state Wednesday, bringing high winds and rain, threatening flooding and knocking out power. More than 100 thousand people.

The storm is expected to drop up to 6 inches (152.4 millimeters) of rain in parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, where much of the region remains under a flash flood warning until late Thursday. Forecasters say the storm will strengthen in Southern California through Thursday morning and overnight, with the heaviest rain expected in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

READ MORE: The evacuations were ordered as California braced for rain and flooding

“We expect this to be one of the worst and most impactful hurricanes to hit California in five years,” said Nancy Ward, the new director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said at a press conference that the city is “preparing for war.” Crews cleared clogged storm drains, tried to move the homeless to shelters, and distributed emergency supplies and ponchos to those who refused to go.

They distributed so many sandbags to the townspeople that they temporarily ran out of food.

Strong winds of 85 mph (136 km/h) or higher forced the cancellation of more than 70 flights at San Francisco International Airport and downed trees and power lines. Firefighters rescued a family after a tree fell on their car. The fire department said “large pieces of glass” fell from the Fox Plaza tower near the Civic Center, but no one was injured. The agency tweeted that the damage to the skyscraper was “likely” wind-related.

The new storm left more than 100,000 customers without power in the San Francisco Bay Area and Central Coast.

The storm is one of three so-called atmospheric river storms in the past week to reach drought status. California Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency to respond quickly and help with the destruction of another powerful storm that hit a few days ago.

In Southern California, evacuation orders were issued for people living in areas burned by three recent wildfires in Santa Barbara County, where heavy overnight rains could cause flooding and debris slides.

County officials did not have an exact number on the number of people under evacuation orders, but county emergency center spokeswoman Susan Klein-Rothschild said sheriff’s deputies went door-to-door and contacted at least 480 people.

READ MORE: California is monitoring flood conditions following the New Year’s storm

Among the towns ordered to evacuate is Montecito, where five years ago large boulders, mud and debris swept up the mountains beyond the town to the shore, killing 23 people and destroying more than 100 homes. The city is home to many celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry and his wife Meghan.

“What we’re talking about here is a lot of water coming down from the top of the hills, into creeks and streams, and it’s getting bigger as it goes down, and that’s where the initial danger is,” said Montecito Fire Chief. . said Kevin Taylor.

Elsewhere, Route 1 of the 45-mile (72-kilometer) Coastal Highway through Big Sur was closed Wednesday night in anticipation of flooding and rockfall. Further north, a 25-mile (40-kilometer) section of Highway 101 was closed due to several downed trees.

Drivers were urged not to leave the road unless absolutely necessary, especially if there is a possibility of heavy snowfall in the mountains.

The storm comes just days after New Year’s downpours prompted the evacuation of communities in northern California and the rescue of several motorists from flooded roads. Several hills south of Sacramento were damaged.

Authorities in south Sacramento County recovered a body from a submerged car Wednesday — one of at least four victims of storm-related flooding.

Evacuation orders were in place for Santa Cruz County’s Paradise Park along the San Lorenzo River, as well as areas along the Pajaro River. Residents fleeing the 2020 wildfires in the Santa Cruz Mountains packed their bags as the towns of Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond and Felton were warned to prepare to evacuate.

Sonoma County officials issued evacuation warnings Thursday for several towns along the Russian River that could reach flood stage.

The storm alone won’t be enough to officially end the state’s fourth-year drought. The US Drought Monitor shows that much of California is experiencing severe drought. Officials say the state’s main reservoirs are low, so they have plenty of room to store more water from the storm.

Trees that have been stressed by years of limited rainfall are now more likely to topple when the ground suddenly bleeds and the wind picks up. That could cause widespread power outages or flood risks, said Karla Nemeth, director of the state Department of Water Resources.

“We are in the middle of a flood emergency and we are also in the middle of a drought emergency,” he told an emergency briefing.

READ MORE: A massive winter storm will make landfall in California and the upper Midwest

The storm wreaked havoc elsewhere in the United States. Heavy ice and snow in the Midwest closed schools in Minnesota and western Wisconsin this week, and a plane skidded off an icy taxiway after landing in a blizzard in Minneapolis. No passengers were injured, Delta Airlines said.

A possible tornado damaged homes, downed trees and flipped a car on its side in Montgomery, Alabama early Wednesday morning.

In Illinois, officials at the National Weather Service’s Chicago office planned to survey storm damage Wednesday after at least six tornadoes, the rarest January tornadoes recorded in the state since 1989.

Associated Press writers Jani Har in San Francisco, Sophie Austin in Sacramento, Calif., Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis and Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

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