In this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, a Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Deptment fire fighter crosses Arroyo Paredon Creek in Santa Barbara County, Calif., on Friday, March 2, 2018. Rain is moving across Southern California, but authorities on the south Santa Barbara County coast say there has not been a repeat of the deadly debris flows that struck during a January storm. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

Southern California avoids major storm problems so far

March 02, 2018 - 11:33 am

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rain moved into Southern California early Friday, but a strip of coastal communities that were under evacuation orders appeared to have avoided a repeat of destructive debris flows that struck during a January storm.

"Things are going very well," Suzanne Grimmesey, a spokeswoman for Santa Barbara County, said shortly before dawn. "The worst of the storm has passed over."

Officials planned to survey the region after sunrise, but Grimmesey said things were expected to look good.

A flash flood warning for that area was canceled at 6:45 a.m., but watches remained in effect for parts of neighboring Ventura and Los Angeles counties as the storm front moved on.

As many as 30,000 people were under evacuation orders in foothills of Santa Barbara County, which were stripped bare by recent wildfires.

Sheriff Bill Brown said the evacuation was ordered because models of the storm showed a "risk to life and property and risk of disruption to critical services."

Not everyone left, however.

"I'm not going anywhere," said Harriet Mosson from her home in Montecito, the wealthy enclave devastated by deadly mud and debris flows during downpours Jan. 9.

The 76-year-old said the three-story condo where she lives was not damaged then because it's on the ocean side of U.S. 101, which helped divert the mudslides that roared down the mountains.

"Can it happen again? Yeah, I guess it can. Will it, now? I doubt it," she said. "And if something terrible happens I'll be able to get out of here."

The ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft offered free rides for residents to local shelters. People cannot be forced to leave their homes under a mandatory evacuation order, but authorities said they should not be expected to be rescued while the storm event is occurring.

To the north, a blizzard warning was in effect for parts of the Sierra Nevada, where snow was piling up and travel was difficult due to repeated highway closures and the need for chains in many places.

Twenty-four-hour Sierra snowfall totals by early Friday included 48 inches (122 centimeters) at Mammoth Mountain.

The snow will help the Sierra snowpack, which is vital to the state's water supply and has only been about a quarter of its normal depth for this time of winter. It's also a boon for skiers and snowboarders.

"We're thrilled about this storm," said Stephanie Myers, a spokeswoman for Heavenly Mountain Resort and Kirkwood Mountain Resort at Lake Tahoe. "Once the storm moves out of the area, we'll have a beautiful bluebird powder day."

The Santa Barbara County evacuations covered residents living near areas burned by three major wildfires over the past 18 months.

The order encompassed Montecito, where a Jan. 9 storm triggered flash floods that destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes. Twenty-one people were killed and two remain missing. Other areas impacted by the order were Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria.

The county is following a rigorous new system of alerts that emphasizes evacuations well in advance of storms rather than suggesting residents can use their discretion.

Brown said evacuations in wildfire burn areas will be part of "the new normal" following the devastation in Montecito.

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