Tropical Storm Hilary unleashes flash floods in California

 Tropical Storm Hilary unleashed furious flash floods east and west of Los Angeles on Sunday as the system made its historic arrival in California after barreling through Mexico's Baja California peninsula with deadly force.

One person died in Mexico amid reports of flash flooding in the peninsula, where some roads were swept away and images on social media showed raging torrents gushing down city streets that had been turned into rivers.

California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for much of Southern California, with flash flood warnings in effect until at least 3 a.m. (1000 GMT) on Monday in a region that is more accustomed to drought.

Mountain and desert areas could get 5 to 10 inches of (12 to 25 cm) rain, as much as the deserts typically see in a year, forecasters said.

The first tropical storm to pelt Los Angeles County since 1939 triggered serious flooding in the San Gabriel Mountains east of the city and coastal areas to the northwest in Ventura County.

San Bernardino County ordered evacuations of a number of towns in the mountains and valleys where social media images showed torrents of water, mud, rock, and trees.

In Wrightwood, California, about 70 miles (112 km) northeast of Los Angeles, the rain washed trees and mud down a hill in Sheep Canyon. Further east in Oak Glen - one of five San Bernardino County towns under evacuation orders - gushing floodwater threw trees, mud, and rock into the air.

To the west in more populated Ventura County, the National Weather Service warned of life-threatening flooding where up to 2 inches (5 cm) of rain fell within two hours. The weather service reported cars stuck in the community of Spanish Hills, where it said firefighters conducted swift water rescues.

Newsom, on a tour of Southern California, said Palm Springs, a desert getaway in Riverside County about 100 miles (160 km) east of Los Angeles, was dry when he left on Sunday but an hour later it had received "the most significant rainfall over a 60-minute period any time in the history of Palm Springs." The streets were soon flooded.

"That's how quickly this system is moving. Take nothing for granted," Newsom told a news briefing in Los Angeles after he said he updated U.S. President Joe Biden, who ordered federal agencies to move personnel and supplies into the region.


The storm stunned people in the nearby town of Rancho Mirage, where water and debris rushed over closed roads and stranded at least one pickup truck that was stuck in water nearly to the top of its bed.

"It's quite amazing. I've never seen anything like this," said Sean Julian, 54, of Rancho Mirage. "I'm seeing a lot more trees down. And there's a big tree that just fell over there, and I probably shouldn't be out here."

DJ Hilton of neighboring Cathedral City said: "We've had storms before, but never anything quite this windy and rainy at the same time."

At 8 p.m. PDT (0300 GMT), Hilary was 105 miles (170 km) northwest of San Diego, packing winds of 45 mph (75 kph) and moving to the north-northwest, the weather service said.

Hundreds of flights in San Diego, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles were canceled, and professional sporting matches were rescheduled. The Los Angeles Unified School District and San Diego Unified School District, the two largest school districts in the state, canceled classes for Monday. Dangerous surf pounded the beaches in Southern California.

Floodwaters raced through the concrete banks of the Los Angeles River, which normally contains barely a trickle. In Ocotillo, a desert town about 90 miles east of San Diego, rock slides brought boulders down on Interstate 8, causing traffic delays on the highway to Arizona.

Hilary made landfall earlier on Sunday in the northern part of Mexico's Baja California peninsula, where nearly 1,900 people were evacuated to shelters, according to the country's army.

The storm was especially dangerous in low-income areas where many homes fail to meet building codes.

"We've always been aware that it's a risky area. A lot of water runs (nearby) but what are we going to do? It's the only place we have to live," said Yolanda Contreras, living in a flood-prone area of Rosarito, about 15 miles south of the U.S.-Mexican border.

In Southern California, millions of people are experiencing the effects of Hurricane Hilary, which has been downgraded to a still powerful tropical storm as it comes ashore.

Residents across the region are being advised to stay home, if possible, and to expect road closures in flooded areas and possible power blackouts.

We take a look at the scene.

Sun., Aug. 20: Tents and belongings of unhoused people are seen near the rushing water of the Los Angeles River, near Griffith Park.

Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Sun., Aug. 20: Vehicles cross over a flood control basin that has almost reached the street, in Palm Desert, Calif.

Mark J. Terrill/AP

Sun., Aug. 20: Interstate 10 is shut down in both directions due to flooding on the roadway as tropical storm Hilary makes landfall in Cathedral City, California.

Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Sun., Aug. 20: A person pushes a cart on a flooded street as Tropical Storm Hilary heads north near Palm Springs, California.

David Swanson/AFP via Getty Images

Sun., Aug. 20: A road is washed out as Tropical Storm Hilary heads north into Palm Springs, California.

David Swanson/AFP via Getty Images

Sun., Aug. 20: Motorists leave their vehicle stuck on a flooded road during heavy rains from Tropical Storm Hilary in Palm Springs, California.

David Swanson/AFP via Getty Images

Sun., Aug. 20: A worker drags caution tape to block off Pico Boulevard after a tree fell in Los Angeles.

Ryan Sun/AP

Sun., Aug. 20: A vehicle drives through a flooded intersection as tropical storm Hilary makes landfall in Palm Springs, California.

Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Sun., Aug. 20: A motorist removes belongings from his vehicle after becoming stuck in a flooded street in Palm Desert, Calif.

Mark J. Terrill/AP

Sun., Aug. 20: A man crosses a street after the landfall of Tropical Storm Hilary in Rosarito, Mexico.

Alejandro Cossío/AP

Sat., Aug. 19: A street is covered in mud as Tropical Storm Hilary makes landfall in Ensenada, Mexico Sunday.

Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Mother Nature dealt Southern California a one-two punch Sunday when an earthquake in Ventura County triggered widespread shaking on the same day as the region was drenched by its first tropical storm in decades.

The magnitude-5.1 earthquake at 2:41 p.m. startled Southern Californians who were already braced for the remnant of Hurricane Hilary, which had already brought hours of steady rain during the region's driest month of the year. There were at least a dozen aftershocks of magnitude-3.0 or greater.

The earthquake was centered about four miles southeast of Ojai, about 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Tres Hermanas restaurant in Ojai, Calif. shared video from the moment a 5.1 magnitude quake hit on Sunday.

Shaking was reported in Ventura, Camarillo, Oxnard, Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Santa Barbara, parts of LA's San Fernando Valley, Malibu, Porter Ranch, Manhattan Beach, and other locations.

At Tres Hermanas restaurant in Ojai, a security camera video captured images and the jarring sound of shaking. Ojai, a small scenic community on the edge of Los Padres National Forest about 12 miles north of Ventura, has a vibrant downtown village area that features art galleries, shops, and bars.

There were no immediate reports of significant damage. The Ventura County Sheriff's Department conducted an aerial survey of Lake Casitas Dam, Matilija Dam, and the city of Ojai and found no damage.

In Los Angeles, the city fire department went into Earthquake Operation mode with all 106 neighborhood fire stations conducting surveys for damage.

"This location is interesting to have it there," said seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones. "This is first time we've had a 5 since 1932 in exactly this location, and even within the Ventura basin."

A magnitude-5.1 earthquake was reported in 1941 west of Sunday's quake, Jones said. Some of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake aftershocks were east of the location.

The term “hurriquake” was trending on Sunday after a tremor hit Southern California.

Jones said more aftershocks are likely in the coming days.

The hashtag #hurriquake quickly began trending on X following the early afternoon quake.

The earthquake occurred at the same time as a rare tropical storm hit the Los Angeles area for the first time in decades. For the first time ever, Southern California is under a tropical storm warning, and most of Los Angeles County is under a flash flood warning with rain expected into Sunday night.

No tropical storm has made landfall in Southern California since Sept. 25, 1939, when a system lost its hurricane status just before moving onshore in Long Beach. The results were catastrophic.

Millions of Southern Californians received urgent back-to-back emergency alerts on their phones Sunday -- the first indicated a flash flood warning, the second warning of the Ventura County earthquake.

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