Over the last few weeks, California has been experiencing the impact of an “atmospheric river” – a meteorological phenomenon that has repeatedly driven moisture and storm activity into a specific area of the state. Approximately 24 trillion gallons of rain have fallen in California since the string of storms began, or 8.56 inches of rain for every acre of the state. The Bay Area alone has received an average of 13.3 inches of rain over the same period. Meanwhile, near-hurricane-force winds have blasted coastal and central areas of the state, resulting in power outages far inland. Several tornados were even reported south of Sacramento in the early hours of January 10. The storms are expected to continue through today (January 17), when the last is expected to end.
As of January 13, the storm was being blamed for 20 fatalities. More than 16,000 individuals were under evacuation orders in six counties throughout the state, with over 45,000 people have been under evacuation orders at some point in the last several weeks. Nearly 850 individuals remain in 25 emergency shelters throughout the state. Highways and roads across the region had also been impacted by flooding, landslides, and falling trees, with several highways and important access roads shut down.
The City of San Francisco, meanwhile, pursued an aggressive strategy of evicting individuals experiencing homelessness from encampments days before the severe storms arrived, violating a court order preventing such evictions. In so doing, the city disposed of first aid and survival tools needed for coping with the effects of the upcoming storms. At the same time, the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing opened four temporary shelters that accepted walk-up referrals once the storms began.
California has submitted an expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration that, if granted by President Biden, would provide federal assistance to state and county governments for expenses related to storm response, as well as to impacted individuals and households. As of January 13, the request is still pending.
The thoughts of everyone at NLIHC are with those being impacted by the storms. The NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition will continue to monitor the situation and is ready to provide advocacy assistance and advice about best practices to ensure that all storm survivors receive the assistance they need to fully recover. Learn more about the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition at: https://bit.ly/2DGvd7L