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11 people rescued from storm-swollen waterways across San Diego County

Fanny Santosa walks her dog Enzo along the flooded Mission Center Road near the San Diego River in Mission Valley
Fanny Santosa walks her dog Enzo along the flooded Mission Center Road near the San Diego River in Mission Valley on Monday, January 16, 2023.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The back-to-back storms that hit over the weekend produced more rain than anticipated in many areas and wind gusts upwards of 30 mph at the coast and 70 mph inland

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Swift-water rescue crews guided 11 people to safety Monday across San Diego County where back-to-back storms over the holiday weekend drenched a region that was already saturated from a series of storms dating to mid-December.

The lower San Diego River in Mission Valley quickly reached flood stage, spilling water onto streets next to the Fashion Valley Mall while football-field-sized ponds formed along Escondido Creek near Encinitas. The rain also caused massive boulders to tumble onto State Route 94 east of Jamul.

The latest storm arrived late Sunday and lasted into Monday, packing fierce winds that appear to have contributed to significant power outages. About 14,000 San Diego Gas & Electric customers lost electricity in Coronado and other parts of the county.

The winds gusted to 44 mph at Naval Station North Island, 48 mph at Camp Pendleton and 74 mph at Palomar Mountain. The latter figure is the equivalent of a category one hurricane. The National Weather Service said the winds toppled a large pine tree on apartments on Marathon Drive in Mission Valley, making some units uninhabitable.

During a three-day period ending at 5:04 p.m. Monday, the two storms dropped an extraordinary 11.21 inches of rain on Palomar Mountain, 7.32 inches at Julian and 5.42 inches at Escondido. The totals were expected to rise by Tuesday morning.

The mayhem was caused by the polar jet stream, which has dropped unusually far south in recent weeks, allowing a series of storms to clobber California.

 A car was submerged at Fashion Valley Road at the San Diego River which reached flood level in Mission Valley
San Diego CA - January 16: A car was submerged at Fashion Valley Road at the San Diego River which reached flood level in Mission Valley on Monday, January 16, 2023. The driver was rescued in the early morning.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Until Monday, such areas as San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles had taken the toughest beatings. But the storms that occurred from late Saturday into Sunday and late Sunday into Monday took unusually straight paths into San Diego County, which was alternately soaked with light, misty rain and wild downpours.

The largest swift-water rescue on Monday involved seven people who became stuck on a small island in fast-moving water near 4700 Pacific Highway in San Diego just after 9 a.m. Some of the victims ended up in the water. Rescue crews quickly moved the people to safety.

About two hours earlier, an unidentified person got caught in swift waters flowing through the Otay Lakes area east of Chula Vista. Cal Fire said they found a vehicle in the water with the victim on top. The person was rescued, assessed and released by paramedic crews.

Later on Monday, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department aerial unit and Cal Fire San Diego crews worked to find and rescue two men who had climbed trees to escape flooding in a nearby area of the river, close to the 13000 block of Otay Lakes Road, that flows into the Lower Otay Lake, Cal Fire San Diego Fire Captain Michael Cornette said. The men were taken to the hospital and said to be in stable condition.

Earlier in the day, around 6 a.m., a swift-water rescue team rescued a woman whose car entered the San Diego River in Mission Valley near Camino Del Este and Station Village Lane. The driver’s car was in about 2 feet of water when the incident occurred.

That area has received 2 to 3 inches of water over a 24-hour period, and the river was at flood stage — 12.77 feet — at the time, the weather service said.

A Mercedes sits in the middle of the a flooded Mission Center Road near the San Diego River in Mission Valley
A Mercedes sits in the middle of the a flooded Mission Center Road near the San Diego River in Mission Valley.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The storm also triggered a debris flow along State Route 78 east of Julian, blocking both lanes of traffic, the weather service said. A portion of the eastbound highway, from El Camino Real to College Boulevard, was also closed for a couple of hours Monday morning and into the early afternoon because of “extreme flooding,” the California Department of Transportation said. Lanes reopened around 12:50 p.m., the agency said.

Flooding also was a factor in the closure of a portion of Discovery Street in San Marcos, Harmony Grove Road in Escondido and Central Avenue near Bonita. Flooding closed part of a popular horse trail in Carmel Valley.

Portions of State Route 94 east of Jamul at Otay Lakes Road, Barrett Lakes Road and State Route 188 were closed for several hours on Monday morning after large boulders fell onto the highway overnight, Caltrans said. The stretch of highway was reopened by midday.

The winds also have had an impact.

The weather service said a downed tree slowed traffic at the intersection of Valley Center Road and Mac Tan Road in Valley Center. The area was hit by nearly 2 inches of rain over a 24-hour period and winds gusting nearly 30 mph.

In Scripps Ranch, a tree fell on a car near Pomerado Road and Avenue of Nations at around 10:12 a.m., partially blocking the roadway, police said. The driver, who was not injured, was helped out by a passerby, and the tree was relocated to the south side of Pomerado.

About 14,000 San Diego Gas & Electric customers in Coronado and other communities in San Diego County lost power Monday, the utility reported.

In Coronado, a minor fire at an area substation resulted in 8,835 customers in the northern part of the city losing power for about an hour, SDG&E spokesperson Alex Welling said. Power was restored to all customers in the area by 11:56 a.m., he said.

Other communities experiencing power outages included Bonita, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Fallbrook, La Mesa, Mission Beach, Oceanside, Ramona and Sorrento Valley, according to the SDG&E outage map.

Rainfall figures are equally eye-catching.

During the three-day period, the two storms dropped 8.47 inches of rain at Lake Cuyamaca, 8.02 inches at Pine Hills, 7.11 inches at Otay Mountain, 6.02 inches at Lake Wohlford and Mount Woodson, 5.65 inches at Mount Laguna, 5.29 inches at Valley Center, 5.08 inches at Alpine, 4.74 inches at Ramona, 4.65 inches at Bonsall, 4.60 inches at Campo, 4.59 inches at Cameron, 4.55 inches at Valley Center, and 4.51 inches at Fallbrook.

The storms also dropped 4.44 inches at Barona, 4.40 inches at La Mesa, 4.34 inches at San Diego Country Estates, 4.18 inches at National City, 4.04 inches at Santee, 3.96 inches at Carlsbad, 3.83 inches at Encinitas, 3.80 inches at San Marcos, 3.64 inches at Oceanside, 3.60 inches at Rancho Bernardo, 3.52 inches at Fashion Valley, 2.68 inches at San Diego International Airport, 2.63 inches at Chula Vista, 2.53 inches at Point Loma, and 0.59 inches at Borrego Springs.

The San Diego River overflowed into the Riverwalk Golf Club in Mission Valley
The San Diego River overflowed into the Riverwalk Golf Club in Mission Valley after a storm on Monday.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A high surf advisory will be in effect at the coast through 10 p.m. Tuesday. The waves have been slamming local beaches for days.

“The surf will gradually lower Tuesday night and Wednesday, with no high surf expected the rest of the week,” the weather service said.

Monday, the San Diego County Office of Education announced that schools in five East County districts — Julian Union Elementary School District, Julian Union High School District, Mountain Empire Unified School District, Spencer Valley School District and Warner Unified School District — will be closed on Tuesday because of the extreme weather and hazardous road conditions.

City News Service contributed to this story.

Updates

11:08 a.m. Jan. 16, 2023: New rainfall totals.

7:05 p.m. Jan. 16, 2023: Updated with new rain and wind data.

6:13 p.m. Jan. 16, 2023: Updated with additional information.

5:26 p.m. Jan. 16, 2023: Updated with info on the latest Otay Lakes rescue.

3:07 p.m. Jan. 16, 2023: New rain and wind information added.

1:39 p.m. Jan. 16, 2023: Traffic updates.

12:06 p.m. Jan. 16, 2023: Information on power outages.

11:51 a.m. Jan. 16, 2023: Updated traffic incidents.

11:18 a.m. Jan. 16, 2023: Latest water rescues


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