Officials Warn Evacuation Orders Could Expand As Rain Continues

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Yet another storm moved into the Southland today, prompting evacuation orders in Malibu and Burbank due to increasing fears of mudslides and debris flows and a warning that homeowners in the Creek Fire burn area may also be advised to evacuate. 

The threat of mudslides and debris flow increases exponentially in heavy downpours. Possible thunderstorms were forecast through Tuesday night by the National Weather Service, and rain is expected to continue in back-to-back storms until Friday.

County officials warned the unstable storm system could mean intense bursts of rain of up to 1.25 inches per hour, putting pressure on Los Angeles County's flood control system. They urged all residents to follow evacuation orders and heed other warnings.

``When people say debris flow, that can be huge chunks of the house on the hill above you, as we saw in Montecito,'' Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said at an afternoon news conference. 

``Three people died in Montecito in the fire; 23 people died from mudslides. So it's really important to take this seriously.''

Mandatory evacuation orders took effect Tuesday morning in areas of Malibu, where November's Woolsey Fire stripped many hillsides bare. 

The orders were issued for specific properties adjacent to steep slopes or at the base of drainages in the following Woolsey Fire burn areas:-- Corral Canyon/El Nido;

-- Escondido/Old Chimney;

-- Escondido Drive/Latigo Canyon;

-- Malibu West/Trancas Canyon;

-- Malibu Lake;

-- all of Ramirez Canyon Road and adjacent streets; and the

-- Paradise Cove Mobile Home Park and Restaurant.

County officials said 225 homes were affected by the orders, but other residents should prepare supplies and be ready to evacuate when ordered.

``Authorities warn that all residents who live in or near the Woolsey Fire burn area should remain aware of their surroundings and weather conditions during these storms. Even small amounts of rainfall rates may result in significant mud and debris flow, so we strongly encourage residents who live in or near Woolsey Fire burn areas to be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice,'' Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Darren Harris said in a statement.

That could expand to include residents in an estimated 500 homes in the Creek Fire burn area, including Kagel, Little Tujunga and Lopez canyons, according to authorities. Some of those homeowners whose properties are in particular peril have already been alerted and shouldn't wait for the broader mandatory order to be issued, officials said. Residents living in homes with limited roadway access or that can become isolated for an extended period due to the storm should also consider leaving, and homes or neighborhoods with gates should consider leaving them open to avoid being trapped due to mud flow accumulation; even one-inch of mud can restrict gate operations. 

Supervisor Kathryn Barger told residents who might be worried about looting and hesitant to leave that patrols were already in place in both the Woolsey and Creek fire burn areas.

``We will do everything we can to protect your property,'' Barger said, who also urged canyon residents with animals to move them out now to avoid the risk of having to abandon them later. 

``The lesson learned (at Kagel Canyon) is there is only one way in and out.''

Evacuation centers were open to serve residents from the Woolsey Fire area at Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center, 27040 Malibu Hills Road, Agoura; and Santa Monica High School-South Gym, 601 Pico Blvd. For more information, contact the American Red Cross at (800) RED CROSS. Anyone who feels unsafe should call 911.

If a mandatory evacuation order is issued for Kagel, Little Tujunga and Lopez canyons, an evacuation center will be opened in Sylmar. Updated information is available at centers for large animals were opened at Pierce College, 6201 Winnetka Ave., in Woodland Hills; and the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, 11127 Orcas Ave., in Lakeview Terrace. Small animals, including those with special medical needs, are being accepted at every county-operated animal shelter, as well as the animal safe trailer at 27040 Malibu Hills Road in Agoura. 

Los Angeles County public safety officials said communities in low-lying areas or next to steep slopes or waterways are particularly at risk of falling debris and mud flow.

The flood control system is operating at full capacity and debris basins are being continuously cleared, but flows created by daily storms without a break ``could overrun homes, topple homes and overrun the debris flow system,'' county Public Works Director Mark Pestrella said. Swift-water rescue teams have already been deployed, urban search-and-rescue teams are standing by, and officials warned all county residents to stay away from fast-moving water.``Inevitably, someone gets trapped,'' Los Angeles County Fire Chief Deputy David Richardson said, urging would-be good Samaritans to call 911. 

``Please, please do not attempt to go in after them.''

Anyone in an unsafe condition without time to evacuate should seek high ground, officials said, while reminding residents that roads may be blocked long after the storm ends.

``Since all canyon roads may be blocked and subject to closure for extended periods, residents should have enough food, water, medication and supplies for at least seven to 10 days for all family members, including pets and large animals,'' according to the sheriff's department.

Meanwhile, a mandatory evacuation order took effect at noon in Burbank for residents on Country Club Drive above Via Montana -- an area that could be at risk of mud and debris flows from the 2017 La Tuna Fire burn area. A series of neighborhoods in the area were placed under voluntary evacuation orders, with authorities urging residents to leave before the bulk of the storm hits. 

An evacuation center was established at McCambridge Recreation Center, 1515 N. Glenoaks Blvd. The Stough Nature Center and Wildwood Canyon hiking and recreation areas were also closed due to the threat of flooding and debris flows. 

In Encino, a voluntary evacuation order was in effect for 14 homes in a neighborhood where a house and guest house were damaged Monday by a rain-fueled mud flow.A grading expert examined the hillside Monday night and determined no additional slide was anticipated, but as a precaution, the voluntary evacuation order was issued about 10 p.m. for the homes on Boris and Martson drives, according to Margaret Stewart of the Los Angeles Fire Department. 

A wall of mud flowed onto the property at 17986 Boris Drive about 5 p.m. Monday, Stewart said. All three adult occupants were able to escape safely, she said. The guest house was moved off its foundation and was red-tagged, meaning it was deemed unsafe to occupy and the main house was yellow-tagged, Stewart said. 

Snow levels in the San Gabriel Mountains in L.A. and Ventura counties are expected at between 6,000 and 6,500 feet Tuesday night, up from earlier levels, according to a National Weather Service statement. Additional snow accumulations of 1 to 2 feet are expected above 6,500 feet, with 6 to 12 inches between 5,500 and 6,500 feet. 

Traveling along Interstate 5 could again be hazardous through the Grapevine in far north Los Angeles County. A stretch of the freeway was closed for hours Monday due to snow and heavy rain and strong winds continued to make travel hazardous Tuesday.

``Plan on difficult travel conditions and possible road closures. Trees and power lines may be downed. Be prepared for significant reductions in visibility at times,'' the NWS warned.

``A winter storm warning for snow means severe winter weather conditions will make travel very hazardous or impossible. If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency. The latest road conditions from Caltrans are available by calling (800) 427-7623. Along the coast, a high surf advisory will be in force until 8 p.m. Friday. 

Another storm is expected to hit the Southland Wednesday and continue into Thursday. Forecasters say a ``warming and drying trend'' will develop between Friday and Saturday, but there's a slight chance of a weaker storm hitting the area early next week.

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