Drivers flee as mudslides engulf nearly 200 vehicles near Tehachapi; more rain … – Los Angeles Times

Nearly 200 vehicles, including 75 tractor-trailers, are trapped on California 58 east of Tehachapi in up to 20 feet of mud and debris after torrential rains pummeled the area and forced drivers to flee.

Interstate 5 through the Grapevine also remained closed due to mudslides.

Multiple mudslides hammered the highway just east of Sand Canyon between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. as commuters traveled on Tehachapi Pass, a rural two-lane crossing in the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County, said Ray Pruitt, spokesman of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department. Authorities said 115 vehicles and 75 tractors-trailers were swallowed by several feet of mud.

“I have never seen slides like this,” Pruitt said.

Trapped in the mud as high as 20 feet, drivers were forced to abandoned their vehicles or had to be rescued as mud swept over the highway. The drivers were moved to three shelters in Mojave and Tehachapi.

But a handful of drivers opted to stay with their vehicles overnight, he said.
Rescue crews have pulled most drivers from their vehicles, but were still working Friday morning to dig through the mud, Pruitt said. No injures were reported.

The cleanup could take several days.

“That’s going to be a long process,” he said. Pruitt had one piece of advice for drivers: “Avoid the area.”

In Northern Los Angeles County, Interstate 5 through the Grapevine, a major north-south artery for commuters and truckers in California, also remained closed Friday after dozens of vehicles were engulfed in several feet of mud and debris.

All north and southbound freeway lanes will be closed between Parker and Grapevine roads for several more hours, according to the California Department of Transportation. Early estimates are that the freeway could reopen by the afternoon.

As crews work to scoop and haul mounds of mud and debris from the roadway from Thursday’s flash flood, forecasters say another round of thunderstorms are possible Friday afternoon.

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Strong thunderstorms could produce heavy rain over the deserts and mountains of Los Angeles and Kern counties, forecasters say. The slow-moving thunderstorms could result in more flash floods and mud and debris flows, according to the National Weather Service.

A flash flood watch remains in effect until late Friday.

A series of heavy downpours pummeled northern Los Angeles County, causing mudslides and flash floods that inundated roads, trapped drivers and forced the closure of nearly 40 miles of Interstate 5. Golf ball-sized hail pounded Lake Hughes and parts of Palmdale.

Firefighters used an aerial ladder to rescue six people and their dogs stranded on roofs of two homes.

In the Elizabeth Lake area, mud surrounded homes. A helicopter was used to rescue two other people trapped in an SUV partially submerged in rushing water. Two horses trapped in a mud flow were also pulled to safety. No injuries were reported, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

The Leona Valley, just west of Pamdale, was the hardest hit, with rain falling six inches an hour and winds gusting to 60 mph at 4:20 p.m., according to the weather service. The storm eventually diminished, but as it moved eastward it brought record daily rainfall to Palmdale.

The strong showers and thunderstorms are expected to continue through Saturday, National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Sirard said.

A low-pressure system spinning over Point Conception off the Santa Barbara County coast will allow a unstable and moist air mass to linger over the deserts and mountains Friday. Thunderstorms could produce hail and erratic wind gusts.

The chance of mountain and desert thunderstorms will diminish on Saturday and Sunday, the weather service said.

By Tuesday and Wednesday, temperatures are expected to heat up and Santa Ana winds could develop, making for dangerous fire conditions, forecasters said.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Stephen Ceasar contributed to this report.

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