By Logan Quirk
Even when you prepare for the worst, facing a severe Southern California storm can produce traumatic consequences. While an everyday storm will cause minor inconveniences such as disrupted plans, those that feature high winds, unusually heavy rainfall, and slow local emergency responses can prove fatal. Realizing that more could have been done to protect you against the aftermath often feels frustrating.
In California, the average rainfall is 21.44 inches. Early in December 2018, a storm that hit the southern portion of the state produced 1.90 inches of rainfall. That’s just under 9% of a year’s worth of rain in less than a day. Amidst all the astonishing figures, there are stories of individuals who have suffered as a result. Although there’s little you can do to prevent unusual weather, could more be done to guard you against the consequences? And, what are those consequences exactly?
Heavy rain and mudslides
In Costa Mesa on December 6th, floods featuring up to four feet of rain brought life to a halt. In some parts of Orange County, evacuation orders were put in place. Most notably, Trabuco County residents who live close to the creek were informed by the local Sheriff that their evacuations were mandatory. When evacuations become mandatory, it’s because there’s a high risk of severe injuries or loss of life. Worryingly, Rose Canyon residents were warned that they should remain in their homes and take shelter as the warnings came too late for emergency services to gain access to them.
So, why were the evacuation orders for 4,000 homes in Orange County and Riverside so urgent? Although the initial rainfall was light, the National Weather Service indicated that it was aware it would become heavy. When flash floods occur, the rate at which the water moves means that people and even vehicles don’t stand much chance of surviving if they come into contact with the water’s path. Similarly, if a building lacks strong foundations, there’s a chance it will encounter enough damage to no longer remain safe.
Mudslides are always a risk when there’s a flood in areas such as Southern California. What made this instance particularly threatening was the recent fires that ravaged the same area. One mudslide shut down sections of the Pacific Coast Highway, placing restrictions on goods moving in and out of the area, as well as isolating residents from their workplaces, hospitals, and schools.
Road closures following the Southern California storm
Although the evacuation orders in areas such as Trabuco started out as voluntary, they were escalated to mandatory when the gravity of the storm became obvious. Unfortunately, this meant that some of the roads passing through Trabuco Creek were unsafe to use. As a result, those living in Rose Canyon were unable to leave their properties or receive immediate assistance from the emergency services.
By the late morning of December 6th, snow was beginning to fall, leaving 5 Freeway through to Grapevine closed in both directions. This meant that hundreds of cars were stranded until the middle of the afternoon. For those who had to remain with their cars amidst the onslaught of the Southern California storm, this was likely a traumatic experience. Additionally, it’s likely that such a long-lasting road closure meant that many people were unable to reach their workplaces or make it to important appointments on time.
Those traveling on the Freeway to Grapevine roads weren’t the only drivers who found themselves facing a sudden halt to their journey. Other areas affected included:
- Southbound lanes of the Freeway leaving Sheldon Street
- Lankershim Boulevard
- Nearby sections of the Sierra Highway
- A stretch of the Golden State (5) Freeway in Sun Valley
- Other roads not yet listed
According to Orange County Fire Department Captain Tony Bommarito, the emergency services were inundated with calls from people who were trapped in their cars due to the floods. Although there were no injuries, it’s possible that the extent of the flooding has caused significant damage to car engines and other aspects of the vehicles’ mechanics.
Interestingly, a flash flood warning was momentarily issued for East-Central Orange County, but was revoked despite rainfall being predicted to continue late into the night. Whether this impacted residents’ travel plans is unclear.
Road accidents following the recent floods in Southern California
According to some reports, there were a few accidents on the freeways surrounding Los Angeles. To date, there have been no fatalities or severe accidents reported. In many instances, accidents that occur during periods of heavy rainfall do so because of poor visibility. A combination of rain and backsplash from the vehicles ahead can make it difficult for drivers to see, resulting in an increased risk of them crashing into other cars.
Similarly, not driving in an appropriate manner for the weather conditions can increase a driver’s risk of becoming involved in an accident. This includes creating an appropriate amount of space between cars.
Ways drivers can decrease their risk of having an accident during flash floods
The best way to decrease your risk of getting into a car accident during a flash flood is to not drive at all. When you know a storm is on its way, take some time to check the weather reports before making a journey. In many cases the weather person delivering the report will tell you if it’s safe to drive and when to exercise caution. If they suggest that any degree of caution is necessary, consider whether you really need to make your journey. In the event of an emergency, call on the emergency services for support.
If you must drive or if you find yourself in the middle of unsafe conditions without warning, slow down. Your stopping time increases significantly when you drive during bad weather as there isn’t enough traction on the roads to help your tires work efficiently. In addition to slowing down, consider increasing the amount of space there is between yourself and the car in front of you. This reduces your chances of crashing into them if they need to make an emergency stop.
In the instance that driving conditions become severely poor, consider whether you can pull over somewhere and take shelter until the rain settles. During this time, switch on your radio or check local weather reports for advice. Although pulling over to a safe place at the side of the road isn’t ideal, it’s better than trying to drive when there’s reduced visibility and crashing as a result.
Finally, always make sure the first aid kit in your car is up-to-date. Items such as warming blankets, bandages, and dressings should remain well-stocked at all times.
Damage to homes and businesses following the Southern California floods
Unfortunately, the same areas of Southern California that suffered during the recent fires have also suffered during the floods. According to some news reports, the residents who dedicated their time to combatting the fires have now found themselves stacking thousands of sandbags to prevent the floods from taking their toll.
So far, no major property damage has been reported following the latest Southern California storms.
Where damage has taken its toll, it appears to have affected lots of day care centers and schools. For example, one San Diego day care center has lost its roof due to the heavy nature of the rainfall. During the January 2018 floods, it was reported that rivers of mud were responsible for wiping out the properties where some deaths occurred.
How to survive property damage during Southern California storms
If you know that a Southern California storm is on its way, pay attention to evacuation orders. As we’ve seen from the most recent bouts of floods, a voluntary order can soon turn into a mandatory one. When a mandatory order becomes necessary it’s usually because there’s a significant threat to life.
If you visit the California Preparedness website, you can identify whether you live in a floodplain or not. If you do, remain extra vigilant when you know that heavy rainfall is on the horizon. Next, you should routinely check to make sure your home insurance is correct. Does it provide the right level of coverage for the area you’re in? And, will it pay for all the important goods in your property?
As we’ve seen from areas such as Rose Canyon, sometimes you may find yourself trapped inside a property. Because of this, it’s a good idea to make sure you prepare yourself for staying there safely for a few days. Keeping a supply of fresh drinking water, medications, an emergency first aid kit, and a radio with plenty of batteries is crucial.
Much like the residents of Southern California, you should also prepare yourself to use sandbags and bricks to stop water from entering your property. The local authorities should provide both, wherever necessary, along with instructions on how to use them.
If you’ve suffered due to the Southern California storms and you don’t feel as though you received adequate assistance, contact the team at Quirk Law Group. As Southern California residents, we understand how the events of early December 2018 have affected you. As passionate advocates who are willing to act on your behalf, we can right the wrongs that you’ve encountered.