FOREST FALLS, Calif. — Torrential rain and rapid mudslides have shut down a Southern California town, stranding thousands of people and trapping 500 children and adults at a church camp.
“Most roads are impassable due to mudflows” in Forest Falls, said San Bernardino Fire Capt. Kyle Hauducoeur.
Even a local fire station had to be evacuated. Authorities have made contact with the Forest Home camp, where the 500 visitors were staying, and said everyone is safe — but the camp was still trapped behind mudflow late Sunday.
Crews used bulldozers and other heavy equipment to try to reach the campers, Hauducoeur said.
“There is no other way out of there. It’s basically like a dead-end slot canyon,” he said.
So far, there have been no reports of injuries or missing residents in Forest Falls, which has a population of 2,000. Hauducoeur said the damage to homes because of flooding has not been severe.
But elsewhere in San Bernardino County, one person was found dead inside a vehicle that was swept off the road and into a creek by floodwater, county fire department spokesman Chris Prater said.
And 1,500 people in the nearby community of Oak Glen were stranded because of flash flooding, said Dennis Mathisen of Cal Fire. The downpour combined with the terrain made conditions especially daunting.
“Try to imagine the bands of rains from a hurricane — that’s what we’re getting,” Hauducoeur said. “The difference (is) it’s hitting mountains. What was a dry riverbed could become a river 6 feet deep, 20 feet wide.”
He said some roads are now covered with 6 to 8 feet of rock, and “we have a lot of mud to deal with.”
Officials are asking residents to stay inside their homes and to call 911 if they need to be rescued. Hauducoeur said two swift-water rescue crews are in the area.
Hauducoeur said firefighters expect to be working the Forest Falls scene for the next three to four days. But with ongoing wildfires in Northern California, resources will already be stretched thin.
The deluge in San Bernardino County came during one of the worst droughts in California history.
Much the state is grappling with “exceptional drought,” according to U.S. Drought Monitor. San Bernardino County has been dealing with “severe” or “extreme” drought.
Last month, California officials enacted statewide water restrictions involving lawn watering, car washing and ornamental fountains.
The dearth has been so bad that some thieves have resorted to stealing water.