San Diegans cry, hug, outside damaged homes after stunning flash floods in normally balmy city


SAN DIEGO — Stunned residents, some breaking down in tears, pulled soggy and muddy furniture from their homes in San Diego on Tuesday, a day after flash floods from a torrential storm produced the city’s fourth-wettest day in nearly 175 years, an inundation in stark contrast to its image as a balmy seaside paradise.

An astonishing 2.73 inches (6.9 centimeters) of rain fell Monday in the Pacific coast city, which normally gets about 2 inches (5 centimeters) on average for the entire month of January. It was also the city’s rainiest day ever in January, according to records dating to 1850.

“Nothing is salvageable,” said Deanna Samayoa, who spent Tuesday morning hugging and crying with neighbors outside their homes, surrounded by towering piles of debris and trash.

Vehicles were swept away as people fled amid the torrents coursing through their Shelltown neighborhood, which is near a drainage canal. Several other pockets in the city were also hit by the deluge. Samayoa’s son waded through water up to his neck as he carried a toddler to safety, she said.

“It was horrible,” she said. “Help did not arrive soon enough.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for San Diego County and Ventura County, which was hit by heavy rains and high surf that caused flooding.

“I find that local authority is inadequate to cope with the magnitude of the damage caused by these winter storms,” Newsom said.

The rain fell quicky in San Diego on Monday morning, submerging streets and freeways, halting traffic, buses and trolleys, and catching many people off guard. Rainfall forecasts had predicted 1 inch (2.5 cm) on the coast and double that in the mountains.

“The water rose in an hour up to our necks,” said Anna Ramirez, whose mother, Maria Hernandez, also suffered damage to her home nearby. “I had to pull a lady out of the water and she didn’t know how to swim. She was crying for her life. It was very scary, very traumatizing.”

Hundreds were rescued from homes, according to a city of San Diego statement. Firefighters and lifeguards rescued about two dozen people from the rushing San Diego and Tijuana rivers, the fire department said. Two homeless shelters were also evacuated.

It was just sprinkling when Eddie Ochoa and his sister went out for breakfast, but when they returned to their family-owned auto body shop, the entire block was flooded and his sister’s parked car had been washed away.

“It’s never been that bad, ever,” Ochoa said. “It’s crazy.”

The Red Cross set up an emergency shelter for those who were displaced.

Hundreds of city workers were sent out in advance to clear storm drains and monitor pump stations, but many of the pump stations reached capacity during the storm and were overwhelmed, the city statement said.

The city described the stormwater system as aging with limited capacity.

“Monday’s record rainfall revealed the fragile state of the City’s stormwater infrastructure and the need for significant investments going forward to prevent the current situation from becoming the new normal for San Diego,” the statement said.

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John Antczak and Christopher Weber contributed to this report from Los Angeles.


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