BRIAN MELLEY and CHRISTOPHER WEBER
Sinkholes swallowed cars and raging torrents swamped towns and swept away a small boy Tuesday as California was wracked by more wild winter while the next system in a powerful string of storms loomed on the horizon.
Millions of people were still under flood warnings, and more than 200,000 homes and businesses were without power because of heavy rains, hail and landslides. Thousands have been ordered to evacuate their homes.
At least 15 people have died from storms that began late last month, state officials said. But the official death toll did not include a 5-year-old boy who disappeared Monday in floodwaters or two people killed Tuesday when lightning knocked a tree onto a big rig on a San Joaquin Valley highway, causing a deadly pileup.
The storm that began Monday dumped more than a foot of rain at higher elevations in central and Southern California and buried Sierra Nevada ski resorts in more than a 5 feet of snow.
Rockfalls and mudslides shut down roads, and gushing runoff turned sections of freeways into waterways. Swollen rivers swamped homes and triggered evacuation orders.
Residents of the small agricultural community of Planada, which is along a main highway leading to Yosemite National Park, were ordered Tuesday to pack up and leave after Bear Creek overflowed and flooded some homes.
A break in the weather Tuesday on the central coast allowed searchers near San Miguel to look for Kyle Doan, the child who vanished after he and his mother were stranded in a truck in rising waters. His mother was rescued, but Kyle was swept away, and a seven-hour search Monday turned up only one of his Nike shoes.
“It’s still very dangerous out there,” said San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s spokesperson Tony Cipolla. “The creeks are very fast flowing.”
The wet and blustery weather left California’s large homeless population in a precarious situation. At least one homeless person died, and more than a dozen people were rescued from a homeless encampment on the Ventura River.
Theo Harris, who has been living on the streets of San Francisco since getting out of jail in 2016, fortified his shelter with tarps and zip ties and took in his girlfriend after her tent flooded.
“The wind has been treacherous, but you just got to bundle up and make sure you stay dry,” Harris said. “Rain is part of life. It’s going to be sunny. It’s going to rain. I just got to strap my boots up and not give up.”
While the storms have provided much-needed moisture to offset a withering drought, their fury and frequency have created trouble that is expected to last into next week.
The latest atmospheric rivers — long plumes of moisture stretching out into the Pacific that can drop staggering amounts of rain and snow — began easing in some areas. But flooding and mudslides could follow, even during a brief respite, because the ground remains saturated.
More rain was forecast to arrive Wednesday in Northern California, and then a longer storm system was predicted to last from Friday until Tuesday, Jan. 17.
The weather service issued a flood watch through Tuesday for the entire San Francisco Bay Area, along with the Sacramento Valley and Monterey Bay. Areas hit by wildfires in recent years faced the possibility of mud and debris sliding down bare hillsides.
Forecasters warned that southwestern California could see 60 mph wind gusts at the peak of the storm, and some areas could receive up to a half-inch of rain per hour. Tornadoes that had been forecast never materialized.
In South San Francisco, high winds ripped part of the roof off a large apartment building.
The squalls and flooding have forced school cancellations in some communities and intermittently shut down sections of major roadways that have flooded and turned into gushing rivers or been blocked by trees, rocks and landslides.
Sinkholes swallowed up two cars on a Los Angeles street, trapping two motorists who were rescued and damaging 15 homes in the rural Santa Barbara County community of Orcutt.
In Montecito, 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles, about 10,000 people were ordered to evacuate the seaside community that is home to Prince Harry, Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities on the fifth anniversary of a mudslide that killed 23 people and destroyed more than 100 homes.
Several miles down the coast of another town, La Conchita in Ventura County, was ordered evacuated. A mudslide killed 10 people there in 2005.
Associated Press journalists John Antczak and Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles and Janie Har and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed to this report.
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