The storm that pummeled much of California for three days began moving east Thursday after causing at least six deaths, forcing wildfire victims threatened by floods to flee their homes and plunging nearly 300,000 utility customers into darkness.
The winter storm is forecast to bring heavy rain, snow and high winds to Colorado and “will be slamming the East Coast by Sunday,” National Weather Service forecaster Steve Anderson said. “From Maine to Florida.”
Anderson said most of California should be dry and sunny by Friday.
Three days of rain dent drought
The three-day drenching put a dent in California’s drought. Government and university researchers who maintain the U.S. Drought Monitor map now classify most of the state as abnormally dry or in moderate drought. Only about 6 percent is in severe or extreme drought, compared to nearly a quarter of the state last September.
Rain and snow fell from one end of the state to the other, canceling flights, uprooting trees, knocking down power lines and causing localized flooding.
In Malibu, a 57-year-old woman was in critical condition after authorities say a boulder struck her while she was hiking Thursday.
In Orange County, firefighters rescued 12 homeless people stranded on an island in the Santa Ana River bottom, while 25 other transients were evacuated from the riverbanks.
Falling trees deadly
In San Francisco, fallen trees blocked the city’s iconic cable car tracks for hours Thursday and similarly delayed other commuter trains in region.
A 200-year-old oak tree towering 100 feet (30 meters) over James Holmes’ suburban San Francisco home toppled over in the wind Wednesday night.
“My family lived under it in our house for 70 years,” he said.
In the Marin County community of Mill Valley, just north of San Francisco, a man was killed when he jumped into the street to dodge a falling tree Wednesday night and was struck by a van, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Earlier Wednesday, a branch from a falling tree killed a 42-year-old homeless man in Oakland. The man may have been “just trying to stay dry” under the tree, CHP officer Herman Baza said.
CHP reported that four people were killed in separate Northern California crashes caused by rain-slickened roads this week, including a 1-year-old who was among three people in a vehicle who died Tuesday from a crash in the Sierra Nevada foothill town of Placerville.
Evacuations after wildfires
Southern California authorities concerned with rising streams and excessive runoff ordered evacuations in parts of Malibu and other areas scarred by wildfires. Malibu schools canceled classes. Santa Anita racetrack canceled its slate of horse races Thursday.
In the Southern California hillside community of Oak Park, where residents used pumps and sandbags to hold off rushing storm water, longtime resident Diane Starzak said her neighborhood “kind of dodged the bullet” as the storms began to taper off.
“We actually had our suitcases in the car and were ready to leave,” said Starzak, who is volunteer coordinator for Oak Park’s community’s emergency response team.
Instead the family used pumps to divert water cascading down a hillside behind their home.
“We are really, really happy, really excited,” she said.
Authorities warned of possible floods and debris flows in the wildfire-ravished city of Paradise and the surrounding region denuded of protective trees and vegetation.
Snow in the high Sierras
Meanwhile, blizzard conditions blanketed the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada and the region’s ski resorts with as much as 4 feet (1.2 meters) of snow just in time for the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
So much snow accumulated on the tail of an executive jet parked at the Tahoe Truckee Airport that it caused the plane’s nose to tilt skyward in a stationary wheelie.
Pacific Gas & Electric said 280,000 customers lost power at some point since Wednesday. PG&E spokeswoman Mayra Tostado said 26,432 customers remained without power Thursday afternoon.