Thousands without power, two dead as storms hit California

Weather

SAN FRANCISCO (NewsNation) — Authorities have confirmed at least two deaths related to weather as major storms hit Northern California, bringing strong winds and rain that threaten flooding and loss of power.

The Occidental Volunteer Fire Department confirmed to NewsNation the death of a baby in Sonoma County, but could not provide further updates other than the baby was in a double-wide home at the time of its death.

The Fairfield Police Department in Fairfield, California, confirmed the death of a 19-year-old woman who did not survive a single-vehicle collision. A witness said the woman hit a patch of standing water and hydroplaned, losing control of the vehicle before colliding with a utility pole, police said in a press release.

Officials ordered evacuations for Californians in high-risk coastal areas at the risk of mudslides on Wednesday.

The storm was expected to dump up to 6 inches of rain in parts of the San Francisco Bay Area where most of the region would remain under flood warnings into late Thursday night.

In Southern California, the storm was expected to peak in intensity overnight into early Thursday morning, with Santa Barbara and Ventura counties likely to see the most rain, forecasters said.

“We anticipate that this may be one of the most challenging and impactful series of storms to touch down in California in the last five years,” said Nancy Ward, the new director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said at a news conference that the city was “preparing for a war.”

Crews cleared clogged storm drains, tried to move homeless people into shelters and passed out emergency supplies and ponchos to those who refused to go.

The city distributed so many sandbags to residents that supplies temporarily ran out.

Powerful winds gusting to 85 mph or more forced the cancellation of more than 70 flights at San Francisco International Airport and downed trees and power lines. Firefighters rescued a family after a tree fell onto their car. The fire department reported “large pieces of glass” fell off the Fox Plaza tower near the Civic Center, although no injuries were reported. It was “highly possible” the damage to the skyscraper was wind-related, the department tweeted.

The new storm left more than 182,000 customers in the state without power, according to Poweroutage.us.

Drew Shatto with Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, has been working tirelessly overnight, trying to keep roads clear for emergency services.

“It’s been crazy,” Shatto told NewsNation’s Gerard Jebaily. “This storm is probably one of the biggest I’ve seen around here, at least in five or 10 years. Coming to work last night, I was down to about 35 mph on the freeway because literally, it was so much rain. The freeway disappeared, I couldn’t see and the wipers were on frantic.”

Shatto said they are waiting for the Pacific Gas and Electric Company to arrive because the wind knocked down some power lines on the road that are still energized. He said when the company team arrives, they will work to get those cleaned up and then Shatto will be able to get his crews out there to get the mud off the road in order to open Highway 1.

The storm is one of three so-called atmospheric river storms in the last week to reach the drought-stricken state. California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to allow for a quick response and to aid in the cleanup from another powerful storm that hit just days earlier.

In Southern California, evacuations were ordered for those living in areas burned by three recent wildfires in Santa Barbara County, where heavy rain forecast for overnight could cause widespread flooding and unleash debris flows.

Drivers were urged to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary, especially with heavy snow expected in the mountains.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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