Blue skies have returned to Los Angeles after an extremely rare tropical storm, though many streets remain littered with palm fronds and debris.
Hurricane Hilary (which arrived as a tropical storm) mostly spared LA though there were some power outages and mild flooding especially in the Antelope Valley. However, the desert communities such as the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs saw catastrophic flooding, with several roads washed out, and people still digging out of debris flows. And as though the hurricane wasn’t enough, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck near Ojai in Ventura County.
On Sunday morning, while LA waited for the brunt of the tropical storm to land, LA County Board of Supervisors Chair Janice Hahn signed a local emergency declaration. Today, the supervisors met briefly to ratify the declaration (3-0), with supervisors Lindsey Horvath (Third District) and Kathryn Barger (Fifth District) absent.
“We expected and planned for the worst,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis (First District), while noting that the storm was as damaging as many had feared
The declaration of a state of emergency is a common procedure during natural disasters. It basically authorizes access to special resources and for streamlined government operations. Importantly, it unlocks the county’s ability to receive state and federal assistance, including from FEMA. It also allows the government to streamline policies and contracts that would normally require complex review or bidding. It also allows for various other special protections, for instance, allowing prosecution of price gouging.
The Antelope Valley was among the hardest hit communities in the county. Due to the area’s flat topography, many roads were inundated, says Steven Frasher, public information officer for LA County Public Works. The small community of Lake Hughes, in the far north of the county, which saw a large fire three years ago, has also experienced mud flow issues, he added. “Our Public Works crews are mobilized to clear the roads and get them back serviceable,” said Frasher.
While the damage is still being assessed, LA County Public Works has gotten reports from the public of about a dozen fallen trees in unincorporated LA County, with possibly many more unreported. Check out this website for road closures in unincorporated areas maintained by Public Works — or follow up with your city if you live in an incorporated city.
“It’s weeks and months in the making to really understand the impacts,” said Emily Montana, director of communication for the LA County Office of Emergency Management, which coordinates with other county departments, cities, and special districts to plan and respond to large-scale emergencies and disasters such as Hilary.
A key component to addressing the hurricane was preparation, said Frasher. The Department of Public Works worked closely with the LA County Sheriff’s Department and LA County Fire Department to notify communities in vulnerable areas in advance. Many elected officials warned residents not to be outside on the road during the storm, which most residents abided by, said Frasher.
“We had many multi agency coordination calls ahead of time to make sure everyone has the resources they need to be able to respond,” said Frasher.
The recent storm brought record-breaking rainfall for August to Los Angeles County. Between Sunday and Monday, rainfall totals were between 2.3 to 4.7 inches along the coast and in the valleys, and 2.4 to 7.1 inches in the foothills and mountains, according to figures provided by LA County Public Works. Approximately 2.8 billion gallons of stormwater were captured at county spreading grounds, which are basically large empty fields and the like that are used to spread water out, and allow it to percolate down, recharging the groundwater supply.