Crews scrambled this morning to clear scores of trapped vehicles and debris from two California highways, one a key artery connecting Los Angeles with cities to the north, after severe thunderstorms pounded the area, causing flash flooding and mud slides.
Officials are not sure when the roads will reopen, and the National Weather Service station in Oxnard issued a hazardous outlook for unstable conditions in the area again today.
Interstate 5 is closed heading north at Frazier Park, with southbound travelers being turned around near the start of the uphill climb on the Kern County side of the Grapevine, the California Highway Patrol said.
And a 25-mile section of Highway 58, which runs east and west from I-5 to Barstow, was closed from just east of the Bakersfield city limits though the mountain city of Tehachapi, said CHP officer Von Cain.
“Caltrans is telling us that Highway 58 is in worse shape than the Grapevine is,” he said.
Cars and trucks remained mired in the muck this morning.
“My captain just came back and said there are still just dozens and dozens of vehicles stuck in traffic lanes (on the two highways). Crews remove some vehicles, then grab some material. It’s just a slow process,” he said of the cleanup.
This morning there were still about 30 vehicles on the Grapevine and about 100 on Highway 58.
“We’ve got some pretty large rocks on the roadway too,” Cain said.
Compounding the cleanup is heavy fog that limited visibility along the I-5 to about a quarter mile, an unusual condition given the warm temperatures.
“Here in Kern County we’re used to Tule fog, but this weather pattern is weird. I’ve lived here my entire life and I’ve never seen fog with the temperature level so high,” Cain said.
Caltrans spokeswoman Yessica Jovel said a geologist was being sent to the Grapevine to assess the condition of slopes above the roadway to make sure the area is safe for traffic.
“We are working to open it sometime this afternoon,” she said.
There was no estimate on when Highway 58 might reopen.
Officials are also keeping an eye on the weather.
The NWS said that a moist, unstable air mass over the region will create the potential for strong thunderstorms again this afternoon and evening in the mountains of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties and the Antelope Valley.
“Any thunderstorms that develop will likely be slow-moving, resulting in the potential for flash flooding as well as mud and debris flows. Additionally, any thunderstorms will be capable of producing gusty and erratic winds, hail and dangerous lightning. If you come across swift moving water crossing the road, turn around, don’t drown,” the NWS warning said.