Desert and mountain towns clean up mud as Storm Hilary moves away

2023-08-22 07:22:02

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. (AP) — Crews worked Monday to clear mud from roads, buildings and nursing homes across a wide swath of the desert in the southwestern United States, as the first tropical storm to hit the Southern California on 84 was moving north leaving flood watches and warnings in half a dozen states.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Tropical Storm Hilary had lost much of its strength as it moved toward the Rocky Mountains but warned of possible “life-threatening and locally catastrophic flooding” in parts of the region.

Forecasters indicated the threat of flooding in the northernmost states Monday was greatest for much of southeastern Oregon and as far as the mountains of west-central Idaho, with localized thunderstorms and torrential rain possible Tuesday.

As Hilary moved east into neighboring Nevada, flooding and power outages were reported, and a boil water order was issued affecting some 400 families in Mount Charleston, whose only access was destroyed. The area is about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Las Vegas.

Hilary first struck Mexico’s arid Baja California peninsula at hurricane force, causing one death and widespread flooding before downgrading to a tropical storm. So far no deaths, serious injuries or significant damage have been reported in California, although authorities warned that the risk continues, especially in mountainous regions where landslides could occur.

In a dramatic scene, rescue teams from the desert community of Cathedral City, near Palm Springs, drove a bulldozer through the mud to a flooded nursing home and rescued 14 people with a shovel, the fire chief said. , Michael Contreras.

“We were able to get the patients into the shovel. It’s something I haven’t done in my 34 years as a firefighter, but disasters like this force us to resort to rescue methods that aren’t in the manuals and that we don’t use on a daily basis,” he told a news conference.

This was one of 46 rescues that took place in the city between Sunday night and the following afternoon, as mud and water rose to a height of 5 feet (1.5 meters).

Hilary is the latest weather phenomenon to wreak havoc in the United States, Canada and Mexico. In Hawaii, the island of Maui is still reeling from a fire that killed more than 100 people and ripped through the town of Lahaina in the deadliest wildfire in the United States in more than a century. In Canada, firefighters are battling the worst fire season on record in the country.

Elevated water and air temperatures were a critical factor enabling the rapid growth of Hilary, which had an unusual, though not unprecedented, trajectory, dumping 10 months’ worth of rain in just one day in some arid locations.

Scientists still don’t know why some storms, like Hillary, get bigger and others don’t, said Kerry Emanuel, an MIT hurricane scientist.

“It’s quite unusual for a storm in the eastern Pacific to be that big, as they’re usually small and stay in the tropics,” said University of Albany atmospheric scientist Kristen Corbosiero, an expert on Pacific hurricanes.

Wet weather could ward off wildfires for a few weeks in southern California and parts of the Sierra Nevada, but widespread precipitation is not expected in more fire-prone areas, explained climatologist Daniel Swain of the University of California, Los Angeles. , in a videoconference on Monday.

Flooding and mudslides have been reported in inland desert and mountainous areas of southern California.

In the Bernardino Mountains, crews worked to remove mud that blocked the homes of about 800 residents, said fire battalion chief Alison Hesterly.

In the Coachella Valley town of Desert Hot Springs, Steven Michael Chacon said roads in the compound where he lives with his husband were impassable due to flooding, and he was concerned emergency personnel might not be able to reach to those who needed them.

“Basically everyone has to stay at home, there is no way in or out,” he declared Monday morning.

According to authorities, a woman was missing after witnesses saw a flood wash away her mobile home.

Hilary broke the record for rain that fell in one day in San Diego and in Death Valley National Park she had thrown the equivalent of a whole year in just one day, forcing the indefinite closure of the report. About 400 people were sheltering in Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs until roads are passable, park officials said.

The last time a tropical storm passed through California was in September 1939, destroying railroad tracks, ripping houses off their foundations, and sinking several ships. Nearly 100 people died then at sea and on land.

South Texas was also preparing for the arrival of another tropical storm that could bring heavy downpours and possible flooding. The NHC pointed out that tropical storm conditions could be registered on the coast from early Tuesday, including near the border between Mexico and the United States, where the population took sand bags in anticipation.

Meanwhile, in the Caribbean, Tropical Storm Franklin was approaching Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Monday.

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Antczak and Stefanie Dazio reported from Los Angeles and Watson from San Diego. Associated Press writers Eugene Garcia in Cathedral City; Ken Ritter in Las Vegas; Will Weissert in Washington; Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Walter Berry in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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