Flooding, mudslides force thousands to evacuate in Southern Calif.

Reuters , Tuesday 9 Jan 2018

Emergency personnel rescue people from rising flood waters and debris after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department January 9, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)

Thousands of people fled their homes in Southern California on Tuesday as a powerful overnight rainstorm sparked flash floods and mudslides after a series of intense wildfires burned off protective vegetation last month.

The heavy downpours subsided early Tuesday after prompting evacuation orders for many Southern California residents, but forecasters warned of more rain throughout the day.

Rainfall totals ranged from 2 inches (5 cm) to 4.5 inches (11 cm) in various parts of the area, said the National Weather Service.

Santa Barbara County, which was hit hardest by the rainfall, ordered 7,000 residents to leave their homes because of the threat of mudslides and issued warnings to 23,000 more.

Last month's wildfires, including the largest in the state's history, burned away vegetation that holds the soil in place and baked a waxy layer into the earth that prevents water from sinking deeply into the ground. That has left the area vulnerable to mudslides.

The overnight rains forced several road closures including sections of Highway 101, and other major highways that essentially cut off traffic between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties northwest of Los Angeles.

Ventura County escaped with little damage, the sheriff's office said.

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