Aug 21, 2023

Storm Hilary Forces Swift Water Rescues with Catastrophic Flooding Transcript

Storm Hilary Forces Swift Water Rescues with Catastrophic Flooding Transcript
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Report on the widespread flooding across Southern California as a powerful weather system moves through the region. Read the transcript here.

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Poppy (00:00):

We start with this severe weather on the West Coast because right now 8 million people across the southwest are at risk of dangerous flash flooding after tropical storm Hillary unleashed record shattering rainfall and catastrophic floods in Southern California. It turned desert towns into rivers. Take a look at this new video into CNN of Cathedral City being overtaken by floodwaters overnight. Hillary has weakened to a post tropical cyclone threat. Not over yet, though.

Forecasters are warning there could be more mudslides, more life-threatening flooding all day there. This was a scene in San Bernardino County. You can see trees and boulders just rushing by.

Victor (00:47):

Up in the mountains firefighters were trapped at their station after, look at this, a huge mudslide blocked the road. They heard a rumbling noise and they went to check it out. And then one of the firefighters was recording this video when a wall of mud and rocks, they started coming down the hill towards them and they had to run for safety. We have team coverage, Derek Van Dam is tracking the storm in the CNN Weather Center as the latest on the forecast. Mike Valerio is in San Diego. Let’s start though with Stephanie Elam live on the ground in Cathedral City. You’ve been there all day and now overnight into the morning. What are you seeing? Still water on the roads?

Stephanie Elam (01:27):

Oh, so much water. Victor, take a look down here because I’m actually standing next to the edge of the curb here and I try to put my tow down to feel like how far down that is and I can’t reach it. That’s how deep it is. Since the last time I talked to you an hour ago, there was a car here. They finally got a tow truck. It took them about four or five hours before the tow truck could get here. This is happening all through these desert towns because it was just so much water in such a short amount of time.

This morning Palm Springs is under a local emergency order as heavy rain from Hillary is causing dangerous flood conditions and prompting at least three swift water rescues.

Speaker 1 (02:07):

We’re asking residents to stay inside, stay where they are.

Stephanie Elam (02:10):

The mayor’s warning is because of a situation like this. A pickup truck stuck in the middle of a street surrounded by deep rushing floodwaters. The driver was not injured, but the California Highway Patrol closed the road to prevent others from crossing. Those floodwaters so powerful, a refrigerator was seen floating away in them. This drone video taken over a nearby neighborhood where the flooding has nearly covered an entire golf course. One homeowner says he’s never seen anything like it in the Coachella Valley.

Bruce Thomas (02:42):

Within 24 hours, it is turned into a tenacious storm. Between hole number 13 and hole number 16, it’s virtually six feet thick.

Stephanie Elam (02:54):

The conditions there also creating a dangerous situation for drivers, including a firetruck forced to turn around due to rising waters. Ahead of the storm the Palm Springs Mayor says the city prepared and distributed 60,000 sandbags as well as cleared stormed rains.

Speaker 1 (03:11):

Even an inch or two of rain in the desert can cause damage.

Stephanie Elam (03:15):

All right, take a look at this, the road totally covered up, but it’s also completely socked in on this other side of the road. Look, I’m barely touching the bottom there. State officials say some desert regions like Palm Springs could double their yearly amount of water in just one day from Hillary. Overnight officials in Ventura County searched by helicopter and on the ground for a couple of people believed to be trapped by floodwaters from the Santa Clara River. Two people eventually walked out of the flooded area assisted by crews. Officials urging everyone to stay out of river bottoms and canals.

And this was the scene Sunday in Wrightwood about 77 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Huge gushes of water forcing their way through a wash, carrying large logs, rocks and muddy debris. Exactly the type of thing the governor wants people to be on alert for.

Gavin Newsom (04:15):

Take seriously debris flows and floods, flash floods, lightning, possibility of tornadoes.

Stephanie Elam (04:25):

And we were out here all day yesterday while the storm really made its impact felt here, and it was amazing to see just how quickly roads were flooded out. It was happening so fast. So no surprise today that some schools are closed. Many schools in this region are closed today. And also what we are also hearing is that 911 communications are down. And that is why it is still taking a long time for rescues to go out because so many of the roads are inundated, including Interstate 10, which runs through here as well, Poppy and Victor.

Poppy (04:54):

Wow. 911 down in some areas makes it even worse. Steph, thank you very much. Later this hour we’re going to be joined by the mayor of Palm Springs, California Mayor Grace Garner.

Victor (05:04):

From Southern California now to the CNN Weather Center Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is there tracking the system. So Derek, we saw the wake, what’s ahead?

Derek Van Dam (05:16):

So much rain, right? National Weather Service out of Los Angeles, just tweeting a few minutes ago that virtually all of their observation sites have broken daily record rainfalls. That’s incredible. And we still have a few hours to go coming out of Los Angeles, some rainfall moving into that area. And of course, this system is just bulleting to the north at about 30 miles per hour and we wanted to highlight some of the lesser impressive rainfall totals. But they are impressive because they’re breaking daily rainfall records, but also it’s never rained this much in the month of August. Keep in mind, this is generally a dry area for this time of year. San Diego, their wettest day in nearly six years. Long Beach and Los Angeles also setting daily record rainfall rates, rainfall totals I should say, from yesterday. This is in the past 24 hours.

7 million Americans or 8 million actually currently under a flash flood warning. This includes portions of Los Angeles County. I want to highlight this area because we have the transverse range. This is a mountain range located across Southern California, and this water has literally been piling up across this area. Just the rainfall kind of bands just working in perpendicular to this mountain range. So basically all of it funneling down the canyons below and unfortunately producing that mud flows, debris slides, and landslides that we’re seeing on our TV screens this morning. A lot of rain moving up the West coast. This is going to continue for the next 12 hours.

Poppy (06:37):


Victor (06:37):

Thank you, Derek. We know you’ll watch it. Thanks so much.

Derek Van Dam (06:38):

All right.

Poppy (06:40):

Let’s go to our colleague Michael Valerio. He’s live in San Diego for us in Southern California this morning. Good morning, Mike. A lot of flooding from the mountains and the deserts all the way to the coast.

Michael Valerio (06:53):

Well, Poppy and Phil, good morning to you. And that’s exactly where we’re going to start here on the coast, just up the street where we are in San Diego. So overnight, there are no fewer than nine people, Poppy and Phil, who were rescued by San Diego Fire Personnel. This was an encampment of people experiencing homelessness who thought that they could ride out this storm on an island in the middle of the San Diego River. If you’re familiar with the area, pretty close to SeaWorld, pretty close to Mission Bay, all of them are okay, but because the flooding threat isn’t over in our inland to coastal streams and rivers, there are no fewer than 10 river search and rescue teams at San Diego fire is putting up and down the river from Mission Bay all the way to the five, which is a pretty long stretch of the San Diego River, but I think, Poppy and Phil, it’s very early here in San Diego, but traversing the streets.

There is very little damage, thankfully, to the infrastructure here. I think preparation was key from lessons learned in January, February and March when we had that succession of atmospheric rivers coming through. But Mayor Todd Gloria of San Diego made it a point to say that he was mobilizing 100s of extra emergency workers because this is not what San Diego is used to. Listen to what he told us.

Todd Gloria (08:14):

We’re not used to this level of precipitation generally, certainly not in the middle of summer in August. We’re not built for this kind of rainfall. That’s my main concern. But with what we’re expecting, it may overwhelm us and we’re asking the public to stay out of those areas for your safety and the safety of our first responders.

Michael Valerio (08:34):

So as we’re looking out across the bay, you’re going to see very faintly that number 72, that is the USS Abraham Lincoln, talking about preparation, the US Navy has sent out 10 ships from the third fleet just to minimize ship overcrowding because the waters were very choppy here. So preparation was key, damage minimal in the city of San Diego. This is the wettest weather event for San Diego since 1873 when President Grant was in the White House. So certainly a bullet dodged Victor and Poppy. Victor, very sorry. It’s before the crack of dawn. So we will certainly wait until the sun comes up to assess the rest of the damage. But it seems as though our friends in the desert communities have faced the brunt of the storm and have the worst of the damage.

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