LOS ANGELES: More than 9,000 California residents were under evacuation orders Friday as a new atmospheric river, known as a “Pineapple express,” brought heavy rain, thunderstorms and strong winds, swelling rivers and creeks and flooding several major highways and small rural communities.
In Santa Cruz County, a creek bloated by rain destroyed a portion of Main Street in Soquel, a town of 10,000 people, isolating several neighborhoods. Crews were working to remove trees and other debris and find a way for people to cross the creek, county officials said.
County authorities asked the town’s residents to stay indoors. Heather Wingfield, a teacher who runs a small urban farm with her husband in Soquel, said she and her neighbors were, for the time being, trapped in their homes as Bates Creek rushed through what was once Main Street.
“It’s horrible,” she said. “Hopefully no one has a medical emergency.”
Forecasters said the Pineapple Express - so called because it is bringing warm, sub-tropical moisture from Hawaii - could cause some of that monster snowpack to melt, overwhelming river systems.
“Rainfall totals of 4-9 inches, atop areas with saturated soil and deep snowpack will cause widespread and severe flooding impacts,” the National Weather Service (NWS) warned.
“Higher elevations in northern California and the Sierras will receive a heavy, wet snow leading to difficult travel.”
US President Joe Biden on Friday approved an emergency declaration for the state, clearing the way for federal assistance to help local agencies.
The move came after a request from California Governor Gavin Newsom, who said he was mobilising resources to help anyone in need.
“California is deploying every tool we have to protect communities from the relentless and deadly storms battering our state,” Newsom said.
The bulk of evacuation orders affect northern California, with seven rivers expected to burst their banks.
Many of them flooded at the start of the year as a daisy chain of atmospheric rivers dumped trillions of gallons (liters) of rain on the state.
More than 20 people died as back-to-back storms washed out communities, bringing down trees and causing landslides - and emergency services now are worried the fresh storms could cause more problems.
‘Stay at home’
San Mateo County Sheriff said two people whose car was crushed by a falling tree in Redwood City were expected to be ok.
“Stay home tonight if you can, folks,” the sheriff’s office tweeted, alongside a photo of the mangled car.
“If you must drive in the storm, deputies are here for you, day or night.”
The Sierra Nevada mountain range has been buried in unusually heavy snow for weeks.
As more moved in on Friday, a number of ski resorts shut their gates, citing weather worries.
In South Lake Tahoe, the weight of the accumulated snow brought down the roof of a gas station, sparking a fire, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Local fire marshal Kim George said crews had responded to similar calls over the last few days.
“No one has been hurt in any of these incidents, which is remarkable,” the Chronicle quoted her as saying.
In the San Bernardino Mountains, in the south of the state, most communities have dug out after days or even weeks of being cut off.
But local sheriffs said one man appeared to have taken things a bit far when he stole a municipal snowplow.
The suspect, named by law enforcement in Big Bear as Jonathan Hernandez, allegedly drove off with the vehicle on March 4.
He didn’t manage to cover his tracks all that well though - the plow had a GPS device and when officers followed the signal they found the stolen vehicle with Hernandez still sitting inside.