PAUL ELIAS and JOHN ANTCZAK, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The latest in a series of Pacific Ocean storms pounded California with rain and snow Thursday, prompting officials to put communities on alert for mudslides and flooding and making travel treacherous.
Runoff flowed from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Sierra Nevada foothills and from Central Coast counties to Los Angeles and the inland region to the east.
Blizzard conditions blanketed the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada with snow while high surf rolled ashore along the coast.
Concern was high in communities near burn scars of recent wildfires.
The Santa Barbara County community of Montecito that was devastated by a deadly debris flow a year ago received 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) of rain in 24 hours, but had so far avoided a repeat of the disaster.
A flash flood watch was in effect for the area burned by the wildfire that obliterated the Northern California town of Paradise in November.
Areas under evacuation orders included parts of fire-scarred Malibu, where all public schools were closed. Several vital canyon roads in the area were closed due rock fall danger.
At least five deaths have been reported during the week of stormy weather.
Three people, including a 1-year-old girl, were killed Tuesday when a car went out of control Tuesday during heavy rain in El Dorado County, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper reported.
Wednesday saw toppled trees, snarled roads and downed power lines all around Northern California, sometimes with deadly consequences.
A homeless man who may have been trying to shelter under some trees near an Oakland freeway was killed when the tree toppled and he was crushed by a 30-foot-long (9-meter) branch, authorities said.
The man may have been “just trying to stay dry,” California Highway Patrol Officer Herman Baza said. “Unfortunately, that protection was deadly.”
In Napa County, one person died when a car went out of control on a wet roadway and hit another vehicle, the California Highway Patrol said.
Tens of thousands of people were without electricity in Pacific Gas & Electric utility areas, including more than 15,000 in San Jose late Wednesday night.
The weather service issued a high surf warning for San Francisco County through Friday, with 30-foot (9-meter) breakers along the coast of the North Bay, Monterey Bay and Big Sur.
Weather concerns also kept a stretch of scenic Highway 1 in Big Sur closed.
San Francisco saw only an inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain but Venado in Sonoma County got 5 inches (13 centimeters) over 24 hours.
Rain and winds forced the cancellation of more than 140 flights at San Francisco International Airport.
In Southern California, fog on a mountain highway triggered a 19-vehicle crash. Thirty-five people were evaluated for injuries after the pileup on Interstate 15 in Cajon Pass, but most declined to be taken to hospitals, the San Bernardino County Fire Department said.
In areas recently scarred by wildfires, authorities feared small rivers and creeks would flood their banks and cause massive mudslides, further damaging communities struggling to recover from a historically bad fire season.
The blazes stripped hillsides of trees and other vegetation that stabilize soil and prevent mudslides, putting at risk thousands of people living in foothill and canyon areas devastated by wildfires.
The hillsides were holding but people in burn areas were urged to remain alert.
In Malibu, a boulder crashed into a car, injuring the driver.
Antczak reported from Los Angeles.