Flooded towns and meters of snow on the west coast, deadly hurricanes in the south-east: According to the authorities and the media, at least 26 people have died in the USA due to extreme weather. In California alone, the number of deaths, for example from falling trees or flash floods, rose to 19 by Thursday (local time).
According to meteorologists, there is no end in sight to the strong winter storms in the usually sun-kissed state on the west coast. The persistent rainfall has turned small streams into raging rivers, and parts of the most populous US state are under water. More victims are feared.
At the same time, tornadoes caused severe devastation, especially in the southeastern state of Alabama. Six people were killed, as Governor Kay Ivey wrote on Twitter late Thursday evening. A hurricane raged particularly hard in the Autauga district, where the fatalities were reported, and in the city of Selma, around 50 kilometers away, according to the emergency services. Dozens of houses were destroyed or badly damaged. Several people are still missing.
A Selma resident told CNN that she and her mother were able to escape to the bathroom before the hurricane destroyed their home. “We only heard the wind and the whole house shook.” Councilman Clay Carmichael described the sight in local newspaper The Selma Times Journal: “Our 100-year-old oak trees lean against our 100-year-old houses and there’s no street to walk through. It’s just devastating.” To date, there have been no deaths in Selma, but there have been injuries, Mayor James Perkins said at a press conference.
The town of Selma became world famous in the 1960s for the protest marches led by Martin Luther King against discrimination against black people. The marches from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, formed the political climax of the civil rights movement at the time.
Five-year-old child killed by tree
In neighboring Georgia, a five-year-old child was killed in a car by a falling tree, the Butts County coroner said, according to local media. Another occupant was critically injured. In the same district, the force of the wind derailed three wagons of a freight train, it was said.
According to the website poweroutage.us, around 50,000 homes in Alabama and Georgia were without power as of Friday morning. A state of emergency was declared in parts of both states due to the damage. Overall, the weather service reported 33 tornadoes or severe storms nationwide.
In California, the situation in the coastal district of Monterey County, south of San Francisco, threatens to deteriorate further. Monterey’s popular tourist area could be partially cut off from the rest of the state if water levels rise, Sheriff Tina Nieto warned. “Some of the roads will be closed and you could be stuck on one side or the other.”
The busy Highway 1 is at risk of flooding if the Salinas River overflows its banks any further. The emergency could arrive as early as Friday after further heavy rains. Residents in lower-lying areas have already had to pack their things and get to safety. The authorities warned to follow evacuation calls. The most recent flood disaster in the important fruit and vegetable growing area in the Salinas Valley was in 1995, killing more than a dozen people.
Warning of further rainstorms
Further south, in Santa Barbara County, clean-up efforts from the past few days’ flooding were still ongoing. Authorities warned of more rainstorms over the weekend. At the beginning of the week, several towns were evacuated as a precaution. The town of Montecito, where Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGenres and other celebrities live, was also affected.
Actor Rob Lowe also experienced storms. “I’m lucky to be here at all,” said the 58-year-old star Thursday night (local time) at a film premiere in Los Angeles, according to People.com. He and his neighbors in Santa Barbara were stranded for a day and a half after a fallen tree blocked the access road.
Ellen DeGeneres documented the flooding with a selfie video next to a muddy torrent on Instagram. In the video, DeGeneres also recalled the severe flooding and mudslides that occurred in the area five years ago. “People have lost their homes and lives,” she said.
In January 2018, 23 people were killed by mudslides in Montecito. Water and rubble ripped away houses, and the mud was sometimes waist-deep in the streets. Large-scale forest and bush fires had previously raged there. This made the ground on slopes extremely unstable and particularly prone to landslides after heavy rain.
Rain after years of drought
Despite the threat, the rains are also welcome. In recent years, California had been suffering from an historic drought. According to scientists, climate change is exacerbating drought, heat and extreme weather, which can also contribute to more violent forest fires.
Many reservoirs and water reservoirs are now filling up again, and the snow cover in the Sierra Nevada is higher than it has been for years. The most recent series of storms brought several meters of snow to ski resorts in the California mountain range.