With strong El Niño conditions now established in the Pacific Ocean, Southern California has been getting a taste of what might be in store this winter: lots of desperately needed rain, but also dangerous mudslides and flash flooding.
After several hours of heavy rain, mud and debris cascaded down hillsides north of Los Angeles on Thursday, blocking two freeways, including Interstate 5, the critical artery linking this city with San Francisco, Sacramento and Seattle. Mud, sometimes up to windshields, swallowed hundreds of vehicles across the region. Traffic coming south toward Los Angeles all but stopped, stranding travelers far from home...
In all, about 115 cars and 75 tractor-trailers were stuck on the Route 58 freeway. No injuries were reported, but 300 people were evacuated, and many spent the night at American Red Cross shelters. Some remained in their vehicles overnight and did not get out until Friday morning, said Ray Pruitt, a spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff’s Department.
More than 100 vehicles were still lined up on the highway on Friday, Mr. Pruitt said, and bulldozers had gotten stuck trying to clear them out.
“There are four to five feet of mud covering the highway in both directions,” Mr. Pruitt said. “It basically looks like a wall of mud. I’m looking at semis buried in four feet of mud. It’s a miracle no one was seriously hurt.”
Rain was heaviest just southwest of Lancaster, where more than three inches fell in just an hour; golfball-size hail was also reported in the area. Funnel clouds were seen near Lake Hughes, not far from the mudslide on Interstate 5.
With more rain expected, flash flood warnings remained in place for much of the region on Friday.