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The latest on the storm that has knocked out power to tens of thousands in California


A powerful winter storm brought heavy rains and damaging winds to large parts of California overnight and into today. The storm knocked out power for tens of thousands of people, caused flash flooding and downed trees, and there is more rain on the way.

NPR's Eric Westervelt joins us now from the Bay Area in Northern California with an update on the storm. Hey, Eric.


SUMMERS: This was what's called an atmospheric river, and it was a powerful one. National Weather Service forecasters had issued strong warnings about its potential impact. What's the latest?

WESTERVELT: Yeah, the storm toppled some trees. It knocked down power lines. It flooded some homes and roadways. Power's still out for thousands, mostly in coastal counties stretching from Humboldt in the north to Santa Cruz County, south of the Bay Area. I mean, there were some pretty strong winds, up to 85 miles an hour in some places. The flood threat remains pretty high in several areas. In Sonoma County, for example, they've issued an evacuation warning for residents in low-lying areas along the Russian River.

So, I mean, the storm certainly packed a punch. It did some damage, some of it significant, but really not as big a punch as some had feared. I spoke with Rene Mendez, the city manager for Watsonville in Santa Cruz County, which regularly sees flooding during big storms like this. The city lifted its evacuation order today.

RENE MENDEZ: It wasn't as intense as we expected. Obviously, weather's unpredictable, as we know. It's still sprinkling, still raining, but things are calmer. We lifted the evac order 'cause we have - at least at this point, we feel comfortable to send our residents back. But we're really strongly advising - as you know, this weather pattern is going to continue for a few days - be prepared in case we need to evacuate again.

WESTERVELT: And Juana, Mendez added, you know, now exhausted city crews and first responders can get a little rest and hopefully, you know, start to get back to normal.

SUMMERS: Yeah. So some officials clearly are breathing a sigh of relief for now. But I understand that the storm did play a role in at least two deaths. Can you tell us what you know about those?

WESTERVELT: Yeah. I spoke with a volunteer fireman with the Occidental fire and rescue in Sonoma County. He was pretty shaken up by the incident and didn't want to go on tape, but he told me the storm knocked a tree onto a double-wide trailer last night, destroying the home. And it struck a toddler. The 2-year-old was pinned in his living room by the tree. They finally got him out under the tree. He went into cardiac arrest. Crews tried to resuscitate him. They did their best, but they could not. And also in Fairfield, just northeast of the Bay Area, police tell us a 19-year-old woman died after her car hydroplaned on a flooded road and then struck a utility pole.

SUMMERS: Eric, you are in the northern part of the state, but in Southern California, local officials also lifted some evacuation orders. What is the situation there right now?

WESTERVELT: Yeah. In Santa Barbara County outside LA, you know, people were concerned about flooding and additional rain causing debris flows and mudslides. One area in particular, Montecito, was very concerned. They had some evacuation orders there because in 2018, Juana, the area saw a devastating landslide after heavy rains hit an area that had been burned by wildfires. And the mudflows there killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 homes back then. But today, evacuation orders were lifted. And like in Watsonville, officials are voicing some cautious optimism that things are getting better.

SUMMERS: You know, this is the latest of three storms to hit the state in the last two weeks, and, as I mentioned, more rain is on the way. I have to imagine that has to have emergency crews quite concerned.

WESTERVELT: Yeah, for sure. I mean, more rain's coming in the weekend and into next week, possibly. So the worry is that this parade of storms is going to really start to cause wider damage, potentially - you know, worries about mudslides, especially in coastal areas as more rain heads here. But the good news is, you know, I think these storms are not expected to be nearly as strong as this atmospheric river that just came through.

SUMMERS: Good news, indeed. NPR's Eric Westervelt with the latest on California's storms. Thank you.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.
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