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Third storm in five days pummels Northern California

Much of Northern California saw another round of gusty winds and heavy rain march through Wednesday night and Thursday, the third since New Year's Eve.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — On the second day of a bomb cyclone storm slamming California, cities across the San Francisco Bay Area tried to recover from damage and flooding brought by extreme winds and heavy rain.

It’s the third wave of dangerous weather since New Year’s Eve, which left many parts of California underwater. Nearly 72,000 woke up without power Thursday after a night of stormy conditions across the state, according to Pacific Gas & Electric.

The risk for widespread flooding, debris flows, downed trees and power outages remains. Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency, which authorizes the mobilization of the California National Guard and directs Caltrans to request immediate assistance through the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program to support highway repairs and other local recovery efforts. 

The precipitation totals so far for the series of atmospheric rivers affecting California that began on December 26, 2022. (National Weather Service via Courthouse News)

The National Weather Service’s Bay Area station reported downtown San Francisco has seen the wettest 10-day period since 1871. The area saw 10.33 inches of rain from Dec. 26 through Wednesday, nearing the all time record of 14.37" recorded in January 1862.

The forecast calls for a break in the rain Friday, with another round of heavy rain and gusty winds coming over the weekend and again Monday. 

“These back-to-back systems will continue to pose a threat for flooding concerns regionwide along with periods of strong, gusty winds. When all is said and done, we are looking at several more inches of rainfall through the middle of next week with moderate to high confidence of even more rain through mid-month,” the National Weather Service said.

Effects on the Bay

The bay in Alameda seen from High Street Bridge in California during a historic rain storm. (Natalie Hanson / Courthouse News)

Throughout the Bay Area, cleanup and repairs continue ahead of the next series of storms. Two deaths have been blamed the most recent storm. A 19-year-old in Fairfield died after she drove through standing water early Wednesday. And the storm caused a tree to fall into Sonoma County home, killing a child. In the same area, residents along the Russian River and other bodies of water are under evacuation warnings.

Thursday morning brought thunderstorms over the ocean and gale-force winds caused hazardous swell conditions that damaged some coastal areas.

Seacliff State Beach in Aptos saw waves of more than 25 feet that caused an iconic ship monument to break away from the pier. And down the coast, Capitola Wharf in the Monterey Bay was split in two as parts of the wharf collapsed into the ocean amid powerful tidal surges and strong wind gusts.

In Oakland, crews worked to unplug street drains and clean up fallen trees. Public libraries and community centers will remain open until the evening for temporary light and warmth. But to rest in safety, thousands who typically sleep on the street have minimal overnight options to escape dangerous winds and rain. 

The American Red Cross opened a temporary shelter in East Oakland that can accommodate up to 75 people of all ages, with free meals and overnight shelter for pets. Miles away, St. Vincent de Paul’s community shelter in West Oakland was where some went Wednesday and Thursday for a bed and a meal.

A person camps in Lafayette Square Park in downtown Oakland during the bomb cyclone storm in California. (Natalie Hanson / Courthouse News

Executive director Blase Bova said the city asked the center to increase capacity from 75 to 100 beds during the storm. She said 46 slept overnight Wednesday, and there have been at least 20 beds open each night during the recent rain, despite the shelter being "low barrier" — people can enter without a screening interview. They have to surrender any non-service animals, weapons and drugs at the door. 

Meanwhile a new street outreach team called MACRO has worked to let people know what shelter is available, Bova said. The shelter already has regular clients still waiting for a permanent home, and to her knowledge there are no other nearby shelters with such readily available beds for the thousands without a home. 

“It’s the lack of very low income housing that blocks everything,” she said. 

Shelter manager Leland Wells said they try not to turn away anyone during the state of emergency, although they enforce Covid testing.

“We’re trying to keep everyone out of the elements as much as we can so they don’t get sick,” Wells said. “We’re getting a lot of folks who have been out in the elements for a minute and don’t even know they have health issues. This is an opportunity to connect with people who don’t normally come in.”

Josuan Picon-Vasquez has been a regular since August while he job hunts. He said the shelter is very helpful for people who are willing to follow rules, and knows of others who came to the shelter out of desperation to escape nearby flooded streets. 

“It’s fierce out there,” he said. “At the end of the day, everyone has to put in their part if they want to survive. It’s sad, but you have to lead with empathy.” 

Josuan Picon-Vasquez is a shelter client at St. Vincent de Paul, during a storm in Oakland. (Natalie Hanson / Courthouse News)

As of Thursday, Oakland still plans to evict more people Jan. 9 from an encampment in West Oakland that has been the center of a long-standing lawsuit, despite the projected weather. Wood Street is the city’s largest encampment, spanning areas owned by Caltrans under the freeway and on city and railroad property, with an estimated 200 or more living in the area. The city has not yet confirmed if every resident who is moved in this sweep will be sheltered elsewhere, although the City Council recently discussed opening up other city land for temporary shelters.

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