Kenneth Kipruto |

Thousands of Californians have been asked to flee their homes as a powerful storm continues to batter the state with ferocious winds and heavy rain that have flooded rivers, brought down trees and led to loss of lives, power and road closures.

On Monday, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in California following Governor Gavin Newsom’s plea for a federal emergency declaration, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.

Heavy rains and strong winds continued to pound most of the state last night, with authorities warning of a storm into Tuesday afternoon. At least 14 people have been killed as of Monday afternoon, including a five-year-old child who was swept away by flood waters near the Salinas River in San Miguel yesterday morning and a driver in San Luis Obispo County.

Flood watch

The severe storm has put at least 90% of the state – more than 34 million people – on flood watch, as the National Weather Service (NWS) warned of flooding and mudslides. Across California, the rainfall levels hit 400-600 percent above average, the NWS said.

“In today’s weather update courtesy @NWS, widespread rainfall and flooding will impact the majority of the state throughout the day, including a more severe storm arriving later tonight into Tuesday. Be prepared and listen to local authorities if ordered to evacuate. Stay safe!,” the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services tweeted early yesterday.

Much of Los Angeles County, Orange County and the Inland Empire were put under flood watch on Monday. [Source: National Weather Service]

In Santa Barbara County, an entire community in Montecito – the scene of a deadly mudslide that killed 23 people five years ago – was ordered to evacuate yesterday as the storm moved south. 

A flood watch was in effect through Tuesday evening for much of LA County, Orange County and the Inland Empire, where up to four inches of rain was expected.

“Heavy rain rates possible Tuesday morning and afternoon. Flash flooding is possible,” the San Bernardino County Fire tweeted last evening.

Disaster relief efforts underway

“The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population,” the White House said in a statement. “And to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the counties of El Dorado, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Stanislaus, and Ventura.”

Gov. Newsom welcomed the swift emergency declaration, and warned that there are still several days of severe winter weather ahead and all Californians need to be alert and heed the advice of emergency officials. 

The rain is expected to reduce on Tuesday night across the state. However, another batch of heavy precipitation is expected in Northern California on Wednesday. 

“We are mobilizing all available resources at every level of government to protect lives and limit storm damage. Today marks five years since the deadly Montecito mudslides that claimed 23 lives – as Montecito faces evacuations today, it’s a solemn reminder of how quickly conditions can change,” he said.

Kenneth Kipruto

Kenneth Kipruto, a multimedia journalist and assistant editor with the Black Voice News and the IE Voice, covers the environment, climate change and health.