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‘Life-threatening’: California braces for first tropical storm in 84 years

California is bracing for its first tropical storm in 84 years with almost 1,000 flights cancelled and the ongoing actors’ strike called off due to the impending extreme weather.

Storm Hilary was previously classed as a Category 4 hurricane but weakened as it approached the Mexican coast, from where it was due to head to California and other states in the southeastern US.

At least nine million people in southern California were under flood warnings as they faced “life-threatening” rain, mudslides, tornadoes, high winds and power outages.

People walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame during the tropical storm Hilary, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 20, 2023. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
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People walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame during the tropical storm Hilary

Up to 10 inches of rain were set to fall as mud spilled onto highways, water overwhelmed drainage systems and tree branches fell in places from San Diego to Los Angeles. The storm sustained winds of up to 65mph.

Authorities also said there was a 5% risk of tornadoes in southern California – the first time there has been this level of risk since at least 2002.

Residents in some counties were ordered to evacuate while Governor Gavin Newsom declared southern California in a state of emergency.

Authorities ran out of sandbags and supermarket shelves were empty as residents stockpiled supplies.

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Disneyland closed early, football games were rescheduled and some beaches were closed in anticipation of the storm.

Schools also were set to close on Monday – postponing the start of the new school year.

Long time resident of Long Beach, Gabriella Holt, prepares her home that sits on the strand for Hurricane Hilary's arrival in Long Beach, California, U.S. August 19, 2023. REUTERS/Zaydee Sanchez
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Long time resident of Long Beach, Gabriella Holt, prepares her home that sits on the strand for Hurricane Hilary’s arrival

A worker drags caution tape to block off Pico Boulevard after a tree fell, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023, in Los Angeles. Tropical Storm Hilary swirled northward Sunday just off the coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula, no longer a hurricane but still carrying so much rain that forecasters said "catastrophic and life-threatening" flooding is likely across a broad region of the southwestern U.S.(AP Photo/Ryan Sun)
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A worker drags caution tape to block off Pico Boulevard after a tree fell in Los Angeles Pic: AP

Airports in Las Vegas, San Diego and Los Angeles cancelled close to 1,000 flights on Sunday afternoon while two airlines, Southwest and Frontier, suspended all flights to Ontario International Airport in southern California. Dozens more flights across California were also delayed.

The Writer’s Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, the actors union, cancelled their scheduled pickets on Monday due to the storm.

Hollywood writers have been on strike since May, with the actors union joining them on strike last month in a row over pay and the impact of streaming and new technologies on the industry.

A vehicle splashes through puddles along a street starting to flood in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles as a tropical storm moves into the area on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023. Tropical Storm Hilary is no longer a hurricane but it's still packing what forecasters call "life-threatening" rain as it speeds up Mexico's Baja coast toward Southern California. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
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A vehicle splashes through puddles along a street starting to flood in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles Pic: AP

The unions plan to resume picketing on Tuesday.

Other states such as Nevada, Oregon and Idaho are also set to experience once-in-a-century rain as Storm Hilary moves east, with the Nevada governor declaring a state of emergency on Sunday afternoon.

Bad weather during summer is rare for California – the average rainfall for Los Angeles in August is 0 inches.

The city is predicted to have at least three to five inches, while hills not far away are predicted to get up to 10 inches.

The aftermath in Baja California Pic: Edith Aguilar
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The aftermath in Baja California Pic: Edith Aguilar

Michael Brennan, director of the US National Hurricane Centre said some areas could get the amount of rain in hours that they typically get in an entire year.

“You do not want to be out driving around, trying to cross flooded roads on vehicle or on foot,” he said during a briefing from Miami.

“Rainfall flooding has been the biggest killer in tropical storms and hurricanes in the United States in the past 10 years and you don’t want to become a statistic.”

The aftermath in Baja California Pic: Edith Aguilar
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The aftermath in Baja California Pic: Edith Aguilar

As preparations were under way, southern California got another surprise when an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.1 struck near Ojai, about 80 miles (130 km) northwest of Los Angeles, according to the US Geological Survey.

No immediate reports of major damage or injury were issued.

It comes as one person died when deadly flooding from Storm Hilary made landfall in Mexico‘s Baja California state.

Deadly floodwaters have left streets inundated along the length of the Baja California peninsula, reported AP.

The aftermath in Baja California Pic: Edith Aguilar
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The aftermath in Baja California Pic: Edith Aguilar

Caution tapes prevent the passage at El Medano beach, as Hurricane Hilary hits Mexico's Baja California peninsula, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico August 19, 2023. REUTERS/Monserrat Zavala NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
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Caution tapes prevent the passage at El Medano beach

Rescue workers saved four other people in the town of Santa Rosalia when a vehicle was swept away in an overflowing stream.

The storm has left floodwaters surging, with homes and cars destroyed.

The storm is the latest major weather disaster to hit the US, as the Hawaiian island of Maui continues to grapple with last week’s wildfire that killed more than 100 people and destroyed the historic town of Lahaina.

Hurricane Hilary off the Pacific coast of Mexico. Pic: NOAA via AP
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Hurricane Hilary off the Pacific coast of Mexico. Pic: AP

Meanwhile, firefighters in Canada are battling blazes during the nation’s worst fire season on record.

The last tropical storm to hit California was in September 1939 when nearly 100 people were killed as it capsized boats and ripped houses from their foundations.

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