Authorities ordered tens of thousands of people to flee their homes as a powerful storm headed toward California, where many communities on Tuesday face the threat of flooding and destructive debris flows from areas burned bare by huge wildfires.
An atmospheric river — a huge plume of subtropical moisture — took aim at the state’s central and southern coast, where the wealthy community of Montecito near Santa Barbara is still trying to recover from a January storm that unleashed mudslides from a vast burn area, swamping homes and killing 21 people.
The storm was expected to arrive during the night and last through Thursday, bringing 2 to 5 inches (5 to 13 centimeters) of rain to coastal areas and valleys, and 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) in foothills and mountains, the National Weather Service said.
Authorities told as many as 30,000 people to leave communities on the south coast of Santa Barbara County, where mudslides from a Jan. 9 deluge destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in Montecito, killed 21 people and left two children missing. Authorities also ordered evacuations in parts of neighboring Ventura County.
Kristine Sperling, her husband, their 11-year-old daughter and the family dog evacuated from Montecito on Tuesday ahead of the storm; it’s the third time they’ve cleared out in two weeks because of weather warnings.
The Sperlings had stayed when Montecito was evacuated ahead of January’s mudslide and said they’d never ignore evacuation orders again.
“It’s a matter of life and death,” Kristine Sperling said from Santa Barbara, where her family was staying with friends.
The Sperlings’ home wasn’t damaged by the mudslide but they needed to be rescued after losing electricity, gas and water, and all the roads out of town were destroyed. The mudslide killed a beloved family friend and several neighbors.
“We’re just not willing to take that kind of chance anymore,” Sperling said.
Like the Sperlings, many residents of both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have faced repeated evacuations or advisories since December, when a wind-driven fire grew into the largest in recorded state history. It scorched more than 440 square miles (1,140 square kilometers), destroyed 1,063 buildings and damaged 280 others.