Refugees leave hard-hit California cities as the storm moves in

LOS ANGELES – As police officers told Kristine Sperling and her family that they should evacuate their Southern California home due to an approaching storm in January, they would not listen.

Sperling, thought she, her husband and their 11-year-old daughter would be completely safe. But the storm unleashed mudslides that swamped hundreds of homes in their community of Montecito and killed 21 people, including a good friend of the family.

Now the Sperlings do not demand evacuation orders. They just go.

“It is a matter of life and death,” Sperling said of Santa Barbara, where her family was staying with good friends after evacuating Tuesday ahead of a powerful Pacific storm, which is probably the worst this winter for parts of the state.

The storm, a so-called atmospheric river, began to move in the central and southern parts of California on Tuesday, drops the rain, communities ravaged by forest fires and mudslides braced for the worst.

The Sperlings’ home damaged by a January mud slides, but the family needed to be saved after the loss of electricity, gas and water, and all the roads outside the city were destroyed.

“We are just not willing to take that kind of chance,” the 48-year-old Sperling said. “What happened in January was just all of our worst nightmares.”

Between a quarter and a third of an inch of rain (less than an inch) is included in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties until Tuesday evening. Spores had begun to fall in some parts of Los Angeles County.

The worst of the storm is expected between the afternoon of Wednesday to Thursday, 2-5 inches (5-13 cm) of rain in the coastal areas and valleys, and 5-10 inches (13-25 cm) in hills and mountains.

“Everyone clenched a little wait,” said Kathy Hoxsie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Hoxsie said, there is also a chance for thunderstorms, which can dump large amounts of water in a short time.

“That gets everyone concerned,” she said.

The Sperlings are a few tens of thousands of people in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties who have been ordered to leave their homes as the storm approached. Los Angeles County authorities thousands more at the height late Tuesday to be ready to evacuate from neighborhoods in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, which are also heavily affected by forest fires.

Many residents in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have faced repeated evacuations or advisories since December, when a wind-driven fire grew to be the largest in recorded history and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings.

Montecito resident Garrick Perstorp evacuated for the December wildfire, but not before the January mudslides, which destroyed items in his garage, a motorcycle and thousands of dollars worth of snowboarding and scuba-diving equipment.

Perstorp viewed as rescuers retrieved several bodies over several days from the front of the house. Mudslides had swept the dead from their homes miles away on the coast.

Perstorp evacuated four days after the mudslides and then again when another storm threatened the area a week ago.

“I’m on a No. 4 now,” Perstorp said on Tuesday as he picked up his car. “It’s been pretty crazy. It is a kind of the price of living in paradise.”

Perstorp was planning to stay in Los Angeles overnight and go north to Lake Tahoe to make the most of his last evacuation.

“I’m used to that,” he said. “It is a kind of desensitization.”

Both Perstorp and the Sterlings know a number of neighbors who choose to stay, many who are older and less mobile, some that are tired of the repeated evacuations, and others who just think that their houses will be safe.

Camille Joos-Visconti, her husband and their three children were in their house in the hills at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles. For now.

“We have three dogs, two newborn kittens, a 20-pound iguana, a 5-foot hose, three young children, and I’m pregnant,” said the 32-year-old Joos-Visconti. “It’s just so much to do.

The family area is also burned bare from the recent forest fires and their home is prone to flooding. Their area are informed to evacuate Wednesday.

Joos-Visconti, said the family has been evacuated three times since September and may be out of the house with everything they need in five minutes, if necessary.

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