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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Tropical Storm Hilary brings ‘life-threatening flooding’ to Baja California, US Southwest

People watch the surfers in Huntington Beach, southeast of Los Angeles, on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023.

By The New York Times

Tropical Storm Hilary made landfall on Mexico’s Baja California coast shortly before noon late last week, lashing the peninsula with winds and heavy rain that triggered flooding and mudslides as the storm churned north toward the United States.

Hilary was downgraded from a hurricane shortly before 8 a.m. Pacific time, weakening as it moved up the coast. But the National Weather Service warned that it was still strong enough to cause “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” in parts of the Southwest unaccustomed to heavy rains.

Strong winds and waves buffeted a large swath of the Baja California coast. One Indigenous community was essentially cut off by the storm, and flooding and mudslides closed a section of highway between the towns of Santa Rosalía and Mulegé in Baja California Sur state.

One person died after a family’s vehicle was swept away Saturday night, and Santa Rosalía had suffered “very severe” damage, its mayor said on Sunday.

The storm was moving north at roughly 25 mph, and rain and tropical storm-force winds have been reported in California, where forecasters warned that conditions would worsen throughout the day. Officials urged residents of some communities to evacuate, with several inches of rain expected there and in Southern Nevada.

Here’s what else to know:

— According to the Hurricane Center, the tropical storm warning was the first ever issued for Southern California. The warning extended from the Mexico-California border to Point Mugu, about 40 miles west of Santa Monica by road. It also includes Catalina Island, where officials urged some residents to evacuate.

— Gov. Gavin Newsom of California declared a state of emergency in 11 counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange. Across the state, officials canceled events, closed parks and beaches, and deployed more than 7,500 emergency responders.

— The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office on Saturday night ordered residents of several communities, including Oak Glen, Forest Falls and Mountain Home Village, to leave. Officials in Orange County urged people in Silverado Canyon and Williams Canyon to evacuate, and said the warning could become mandatory quickly if conditions changed.

— The weather service said that parts of California, including the Mojave Desert and the Imperial Valley, could see a tornado or two on Sunday. Tornadoes are not common in the Golden State. But it sees about 11 per year, the service has said.

— Mexico deployed more than 6,500 soldiers on Friday to the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur to help erect shelters, organize food banks and prepare for possible emergency rescues in areas popular with tourists.

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