Latest atmospheric river pounds soggy California; 27,000 evacuations ordered

WATSONVILLE, Calif. — The latest powerful atmospheric flow to drench California evacuated nearly 27,000 people Tuesday due to flooding and risks of landslides. On the central coast, workers hauled truckloads of rock to plug a broken river levee amid constant rain and wind.

Forecasters warned of damaging winds gusting up to 70mph and there were numerous reports of falling trees. More than 330,000 utility customers in northern and central areas were affected by power outages, according to, which tracks outages nationwide.

Crews scooted Tuesday to stabilize the Pajaro River’s broken levee, placing stones and boulders to close the gap that opened about 70 miles south of San Francisco late Friday. Workers will then raise the elevation of that portion to compare with the rest of the dam over the next few weeks to make it impermeable, officials said.

Tuesday’s storm initially spread light to moderate rain across the north and center of the state. But the National Weather Service said the storm is moving faster than expected and most of the precipitation will shift south.

“Even a small amount of rain could potentially have a larger impact,” Shaunna Murray of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency said Tuesday during a news conference.

Gusty winds damaged windows at a high-rise in San Francisco, raining down glass and forcing evacuations from the building in the Financial District. No injuries were immediately reported.

So far this winter, California has been hit by 10 previous atmospheric flows — long plumes of moisture emanating from the Pacific Ocean — as well as powerful storms fueled by arctic air that created blizzard conditions. On the east coast, the onset of a winter storm with heavy, wet snow caused a plane to skid off a runway and led to hundreds of school closures, canceled flights and thousands of power outages on Tuesday.

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Along the Southern California coast, evacuation orders began at 8 a.m. in Santa Barbara County for several areas burned by wildfires in recent years, resulting in an increased risk of flash flooding and debris flows.

The storm caused emergency declarations for 40 counties.

In addition to evacuation orders, more than 71,600 people were under evacuation alerts and 546 people were in emergency shelters as of Tuesday morning, said Brian Ferguson, spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services. Updated figures were not immediately available.

More flooding was expected along the central coast, where the Pajaro River swelled from last week’s outflow of atmospheric flow. Authorities had received no reports of deaths or missing people linked to the storm as of Monday.

The levee breach has grown to at least 400 feet since the failure late Friday, officials said. A gap of about 20 feet remained as of Tuesday afternoon.

Pajaro, an unincorporated community known for its strawberry cultivation, was largely inundated. More than 8,500 people have been ordered to evacuate, and nearly 250 people have been rescued by first responders since Friday.

Some residents of the predominantly Latino farm labor community stayed. One shelter was already full as of Tuesday midday, and officials had to open two more to house the evacuees.

“We live seven houses from the river and the water level was six feet, seven probably,” said evacuee Andres Garcia. “So we probably lost everything.”

A second 100-foot breach in the levee opened closer to the Pacific coast and provided a “relief valve” to allow flood waters to recede near the river’s mouth, officials said at a news conference Monday.

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Built in the late 1940s to protect against flooding, the levee was a known risk for decades and breached several times in the 1990s. Emergency repairs to a section of the berm were made in January. A $400 million revamp is set to begin in the next few years.

“We’ve had so many years of drought and they could have fixed the dam a long time ago, but they didn’t,” said Garcia, the Pajaro evacuee. “This is the second time it has happened. 1995 the same. We lost everything.”

The river separates Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. Highway 1, a main link between the two counties, has been closed along with several other roads.


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