LOS ANGELES • The threat of dangerous mudslides was expected to grow yesterday as a storm rolls through coastal California, where thousands have fled from homes near hillsides that were stripped of vegetation by massive wildfires.
Intense rain of up to 3cm per hour were forecast yesterday morning for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, north-west of Los Angeles, where 25,000 people have been evacuated in recent days, weather and local officials said.
"The storm has a lot of intensity behind it and has the potential to be life-threatening," said Ms Amber Anderson, spokesman for the Santa Barbara Fire Department.
She added that evacuation warnings had mostly been heeded.
Wildfires last winter left California's coastline vulnerable to mudslides by burning grass and shrubs that hold soil in place and baking a layer of earth that keeps rainwater from sinking deeply.
Some 21 people were killed and dozens injured in mudslides on Jan 9 after heavy rain in and around the Santa Barbara County community of Montecito, 137km north-west of Los Angeles.
The destruction in that event covered 78 sq km, leaving 65 single-family homes demolished and more than 450 others damaged. Nearly 30 commercial properties were damaged or destroyed. The damage was estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The current storm began producing downpours on Tuesday night and continued on Wednesday. County officials said this storm is expected to produce far more rainfall than the one in January.