SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Strong winds lashed California Wednesday, already uprooting trees as crews rushed to clear storm drains and people reinforced their homes in preparation for flooding and power outages.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency just days earlier to allow for a quicker response and aid in the cleanup from another powerful storm. Dozens of flights were canceled at San Francisco International Airport, and South San Francisco schools already canceled classes for Thursday. As the storm intensified, state officials warned residents in northern California to stay off the roads.
Officials asked drivers to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary — and to stay informed by signing up for updates from emergency officials about downed trees and power lines, and flooding. In northern California, a 25-mile (40-kilometre) section of Highway 101 was closed between the cities of Trinidad and Ourique due to numerous downed trees.
“We anticipate that this could be one of the most challenging and impactful series of storms to hit California in the last five years,” said Nancy Ward, the new director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
The storm moving into northern California at full strength as of Wednesday evening is one of three so-called atmospheric river storm in the last week to reach the drought-hit state. Officials said that because the states’ major reservoirs are at record lows from a three-year period of drought, they have plenty of room to fill with more water from the coming storm.
Still, the trees are already stressed by years of limited rainfall. Now that the ground is suddenly submerged and strong winds are blowing, the chances of trees falling are high. Carla Nemeth, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources, said it could cause widespread power outages or the risk of flooding.
“We are in the middle of a flood emergency and also in the middle of a drought emergency,” she said during an emergency briefing.
The storm comes after New Year’s Eve, which led to the evacuation of people in rural Northern California communities and rescued many motorists from flooded roads. Some dams were damaged south of Sacramento.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, 8,500 sandbags distributed by officials were not enough to reach demand Wednesday as forecasters warned of impending flooding. The South San Francisco Unified School District announced that classes for its 8,000 students would be canceled Thursday “out of an abundance of caution.”
The National Weather Service said heavy rain is expected later Wednesday and into Thursday with winds up to 60 mph (96 kph), making driving conditions difficult. Forecasters said that in Southern California, the intensity of the storm was expected to peak overnight, with Santa Barbara and Ventura counties expected to receive the most rainfall.
Aaron Johnson, Pacific Gas & Electric regional vice president for the Bay Area, said the company has more than 3,000 employees working in teams of three to five people to assess damage to their equipment and restore power as quickly as possible. Can go
Robert O’Neill, an insurance broker who lives and works just south of San Francisco, said he queued to get sandbags for his garage and a co-worker’s house to prepare for the storm.
As president of Town and Country Insurance Services, he on Wednesday offered employees the option to work from home, which many did, he said. He plans to leave office early and go home, where he has bags full of clothes, medicines, electronic chargers and important papers. He has a sleeping bag and three days’ worth of water, nuts and protein bars.
“We’re in a big city, so we won’t be stranded for too long, but you never know,” he said. “There’s no point in not being prepared.”
The storms in California still haven’t been enough to officially end the drought, now entering its fourth year. The US Drought Monitor showed that most states are in severe to extreme drought conditions.
Elsewhere, in the Midwest, snow and heavy snow have taken a toll this week, closing schools in Minnesota and western Wisconsin — and causing a jet lag an icy taxiway After landing in a snowstorm in Minneapolis. Delta Airlines said no passengers were injured.
To the south, a possible tornado damaged homes, downed trees and flipped a vehicle in Montgomery, Alabama, early Wednesday. Christina Thornton, director of the Montgomery Emergency Management Agency, said radar indicated a possible, but unconfirmed, tornado. He said the storm had extremely strong winds and moved over the area before dawn.
Crews at the National Weather Service’s Chicago office plan to survey the storm’s damage Wednesday after at least six tornadoes struck, the largest number of rare January tornadoes recorded in the state since 1989.
Associated Press writers Jenny Haar in San Francisco, Sophie Austin in Sacramento, California, Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis and Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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