Incoming rainstorms this weekend are raising fears over dangerous flooding in Southern California. The storm threatens to bring more damage to communities already struggling in the aftermath of a historic winter storm just weeks earlier.
Federal help from FEMA was approved Friday for 34 storm-ravaged California counties including Los Angeles and San Bernardino.
Residents were urged to take precautions as warmer temps will result in a ton of snowmelt, exacerbating flooding concerns.
Officials are advising locals to fill up sandbags to protect their homes. A limited supply of free sandbags will be available at San Bernardino County fire stations. Those interested will need to bring their own shovel to fill the sandbags.
However, officials say, “Homeowners should not depend on this supply and ideally should plan to purchase bags from home improvement and hardware stores. Purchase sandbags early and make them a part of your emergency supplies so they will be available when you need them.”
In the meantime, mountain communities are still recovering from the last storm while preparing for the inclement weather the best they can.
“It’s a little scary,” said Ana Vallesteros, who works in Lake Arrowhead. “We haven’t even got out of this storm and then here we go into another one. We were trying to hurry up and get over here before we get flooded.”
Vallesteros and her husband, Robert Wightman, traveled to a Rimforest fire station to collect sandbags to protect their Lake Arrowhead business.
“All the snow blocked all of our drains, so there’s nowhere for the water to go,” said Wightman. “So without the water gone, it’s going to threaten to submerge all the rooms.”
“The normal drainages are blocked with ice and snow, so the water doesn’t have its normal path to travel,” explained Capt. Paul Holaday from the Orange County Fire Authority.
Flooding isn’t the only concern facing mountain residents, either.
Emergency crews have received calls about collapsed decks as rain adds unbearable weight to thick layers of snow. With more rain in the forecast this week, the situation could become worse before the storm ends.
Earlier this week, deputies confirmed 13 people have died so far following historic storms that buried the San Bernardino Mountains under several feet of snow, covering homes and paralyzing travel.
The storms blocked road access to mountain areas, leaving stranded locals to fend for themselves without power as supplies of food, medicine and fuel dwindled.
For now, deputies can only confirm that one death was storm-related while the others remain under investigation.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in the area on March 1.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Friday that disaster assistance will be “made available to the state of California to supplement state, tribal and local response efforts due to emergency conditions resulting from severe winter storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides beginning March 9, 2023, and continuing.”
The aid “will allow FEMA to direct other federal agencies to provide life-saving and emergency assistance as needed to respond to, not only the current events happening right now, but the atmospheric rivers as they come, days to a week in front of us,” said Bob Fenton, a FEMA representative.
“We are grateful for President Biden’s swift action to provide more resources and assistance to Californians reeling from back-to-back storms,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “We also thank all the heroic first responders working tirelessly to save lives in these dangerous and challenging conditions. California will continue to work day and night with local, state and federal partners to protect and support our communities.”
Some residents remain critical though, wondering why emergency help took so long to arrive for those who were stranded and trapped inside their homes.
For now, officials are urging residents likely to be affected to prepare accordingly before the brunt of the storm arrives this weekend.