First Storm of 2018 Causes Mudslides, Closes Topanga Canyon

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A vehicle is damaged outside an apartment building near the bottom of Las Flores Canyon Road on Tuesday.

Malibu weathered its first winter storm of 2018 this week, and though the torrential rain means a reprieve from wildfire fears, the water brings with it a whole other set of challenges.

A mudslide on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in the early morning of Tuesday, Jan. 9, closed down the roadway about 1.5 miles north of Pacific Coast Highway. Caltrans later in the day indicated the canyon road, one of three major traffic arteries serving the Malibu community, would remain closed for the “next two days,” with an expected reopening later in the week.

Driving conditions across the city were treacherous.

Throughout the day, reports from the California Highway Patrol rolled in about rocks across the roadway on Kanan Dume and Malibu Canyon roads.

Around 8 a.m., a tree came down across Las Flores Canyon Road not far from the intersection with PCH, causing a long backup of cars waiting to turn onto the highway.

A group of neighbors and those waiting in their cars got out and began clearing the tree, with help and supervision from sheriff’s deputies from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station. The tree caused damage to one vehicle.

Creeks—including Las Flores Creek, located across the street from The Malibu Times’ office—came to life, filling with water.

Runoff from the creeks led to a Water Quality Rain Advisory, meaning the county asks that people avoid going into the ocean for up to three days following a major rain.

“A rain advisory is issued when there is significant rainfall that may cause bacteria levels in ocean waters to increase,” according to information provided on the county’s department of public health. “Bacteria levels can increase significantly during and after rainstorms, as contaminants within the runoff enters the ocean. Bacteria levels may remain elevated up to three days depending upon the intensity of the rain and the volume of runoff. Elevated bacteria levels in ocean water may cause illness, especially in children and the elderly.”

Rainfall in Malibu was measured at about 1.5 inches since Monday afternoon at Leo Carrillo and more than 2.3 inches in the Malibu Hills in the same time. 

The speedy rainfall also put Malibu’s coast under a High Surf Advisory through Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 10.

A few miles up the coast, fast-moving mudflow from the storm, due to the recent massively destructive Thomas Fire, was also responsible for 13 reported deaths as of Tuesday evening.

Heavy rain caused creeks to overflow, eventually flooding the Ventura (101) Freeway, causing a 30-mile closure between Santa Barbara and Ventura. That closure, according to local news, was expected to last for “at least two days,” severing the only coastal highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.