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Latest California storm brings floods, slides, power outages

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — Rain-weary Californians grappled with flooding and mudslides Monday as the latest in a series of powerful storms walloped the state, toppling trees and frustrating motorists who hit roadblocks caused by fallen debris. Tens of thousands of people remained without power, and some schools closed for the day.

Evacuation orders were issued in coastal, woodsy Santa Cruz County for about 32,000 residents living near rain-swollen rivers and creeks, said Melodye Serino, the deputy county administrative officer. The San Lorenzo River was declared at flood stage, and video on social media showed a neighborhood flooded with muddy water surging up to a stop sign.

A large, muddy slide blocked both lanes of southbound Highway 17, a key but windy route into Santa Cruz from the San Francisco Bay Area. Vehicles were turned back at the summit as crews arrived to clean up.

Despite the deadly nature of storms, which have killed at least a dozen people, residents of tiny, flooded Felton remained calm and upbeat.

Christine Patracuola, the owner of Rocky’s Cafe for 25 years, handed out free coffee to customers whose homes lacked power Monday. Her staff couldn’t come in because of closed roads, including a bridge over the San Lorenzo.

  • Tree branches block a road in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023. California was drying out and digging out on New Year’s Day after a powerful storm brought drenching rain or heavy snowfall to much of the state, snarling traffic and closing highways. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)
  • Tree branches block a road in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023. California was drying out and digging out on New Year’s Day after a powerful storm brought drenching rain or heavy snowfall to much of the state, snarling traffic and closing highways. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)
  • A tree collapsed and ripped up the sidewalk damaging a home in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. The National Weather Service warned of a “relentless parade of atmospheric rivers” — storms that are long plumes of moisture stretching out into the Pacific capable of dropping staggering amounts of rain and snow. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)
  • A tree collapsed and ripped up the sidewalk damaging a home in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. The National Weather Service warned of a “relentless parade of atmospheric rivers” — storms that are long plumes of moisture stretching out into the Pacific capable of dropping staggering amounts of rain and snow. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)
  • A tree collapsed and ripped up the sidewalk damaging a home in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. The weather service’s Sacramento office said the region should brace for an even more powerful storm system to move in late Sunday and early Monday. “Widespread power outages, downed trees and difficult driving conditions will be possible,” the office said on Twitter. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)
  • Crane operator Ricky Kapuschinsky, with AAA Crane, gets ready to lift uprooted trees on Capitol Avenue and 27th Street in midtown after a storm brought high winds overnight in Sacramento, Calif., on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. California was hit with more turbulent weather as thunderstorms, snow and damaging winds swept into the northern part the state. Sunday’s system preceded another series of incoming storms this week that raised the potential for flooding, rising rivers and mudslides on soils already saturated after days of rain. (Sara Nevis/The Sacramento Bee via AP)
  • A crane lifts tree removal foreman Francisco Villanueva to assess which branches to remove first from two homes on Capitol Avenue in midtown Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. Heavy winds from an overnight storm downed trees and power lines throughout the region. The weather service’s Sacramento office said the area should brace for the latest atmospheric river to roar late Sunday and early Monday ashore. (Sara Nevis/The Sacramento Bee via AP)
  • An East Sacramento resident crosses the street in front of a tree blocking H Street near 36th Street in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023. The weather service’s Sacramento office said the region should brace for the latest atmospheric river to roar late Sunday and early Monday ashore. (Sara Nevis/The Sacramento Bee via AP)
  • The closed Summit Road is blocked as emergency personnel are deployed in the area in Santa Clara County, Calif., Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Californians grappled with flooding and mudslides Monday as the latest in a series of powerful storms walloped the state, shuttering schools, toppling trees and leaving tens of thousands without power. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

“A little coffee can’t hurt anybody,” she said. “You can’t really change Mother Nature; you just have to roll with the punches and hope you don’t get swept up into it.”

Nicole Martin, third-generation owner of the Fern River Resort in Felton, said Monday that her clients sipped coffee, sat on cabin porches amid towering redwood trees, and were “enjoying the show” as picnic tables and other debris floated down the swollen San Lorenzo.

The river is usually about 60 feet (18 meters) below the cabins, Martin said, but it crept up to 12 feet (4 meters) from the cabins. Still, Martin said she wasn’t worried – her family has owned the property for about 60 years, and her grandfather checked out conditions Monday and shrugged it off.

The resort prepared by getting about 8,000 pounds of sandbags, readying generators, and handing out lanterns to guests who opted the weather the storm in their cabins.

In Northern California, several districts closed schools. More than 35,000 customers remained without power in Sacramento, down from more than 350,000 a day earlier after gusts of 60 mph (97 kph) knocked majestic trees into power lines, according to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

The National Weather Service warned of a “relentless parade of atmospheric rivers” — long plumes of moisture stretching out into the Pacific that can drop staggering amounts of rain and snow. The precipitation expected over the next couple of days comes after storms last week knocked out power to thousands, flooded streets, and battered the coastline.

President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration Monday to support storm response and relief efforts in more than a dozen counties including Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said 12 people died as a result of violent weather during the past 10 days, and he warned that this week’s storms could be even more dangerous and urged people to stay home.

Newsom’s warning came on the fifth anniversary of a mudslide that killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 homes in coastal Montecito, north of Los Angeles, following a powerful storm. Upscale Montecito is home to celebrities such as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

The first of the newest, heavier storms prompted the weather service to issue a flood watch for a large portion of Northern and Central California, with 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain expected through Wednesday in the already saturated Sacramento-area foothills.

In the Los Angeles area, there was potential for as much as 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain in foothill areas late Monday and Tuesday. High surf was also expected on west-facing beaches.

Since Dec. 26, San Francisco gotten more than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, while Mammoth Mountain, a popular ski area in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, got nearly 10 feet (3 meters) of snow, the National Weather Service said.

The storms won’t be enough to officially end California’s drought, but they have helped.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, expects a break in the rain after Jan. 18.

“That is my best guess right now, which is good because it will give the rivers in Northern California, and now in Central California, a chance to come down,” he said.