Tropical Storm Hilary: Los Angeles suspends classes due to warnings of ‘life-threatening flooding’

California declared a state of emergency in preparation of the weather phenomenon, which killed at least one person died when it hit Mexico on Sunday

Luis Pablo Beauregard
Tropical Storm Hilary
Long Beach residents fill sandbags to prepare for possible flooding caused by the storm.CAROLINE BREHMAN (EFE)

Classes in Southern California have been suspended due to Tropical Storm Hilary, which has killed at least one person during its passage through the Mexican region of Baja California. Hilary made landfall in the United States on Sunday afternoon, and it is forecast to cause heavy rainfall in the metropolitan area of Los Angeles throughout Monday. Authorities in California have decreed a state of emergency and asked residents of the state — the most populous in the United States — to take all necessary precautions against possible flooding.

Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, reported that the worst of the tropical storm would reach the city late Sunday night “which does not afford enough time for our staff to adequately inspect our facilities.” He added that the powerful storm prompted state and local authorities to sign emergency declarations, which are valid for Southern California. The tropical storm is expected to affect the transportation network of Los Angeles, and lead to power outages and street closures, “putting students and employees at risk,” Carvalho posted in a message on X, formerly known as Twitter. The Los Angeles Unified School District is the nation’s second-largest school system, with close to half a million students, aged from four to 18.

The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, proclaimed a state of emergency on Saturday, when Hilary was still a category two hurricane. Since then, the weather phenomenon was downgraded to tropical storm, with winds of up to 37 miles (60 kilometers) per hour. California, however, remains on maximum alert. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that it could cause “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding.”

 Cars move past downed trees that partially block a road as Tropical Storm Hilary arrives in Cathedral City, California.
Cars move past downed trees that partially block a road as Tropical Storm Hilary arrives in Cathedral City, California.ALLISON DINNER (EFE)

Hilary picked up speed as it approached the United States. On Saturday, the hurricane was advancing at a rate of 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) per hour, but according to the NHC, this rose to 25 miles (40 kilometers) per hour as it neared the U.S. The increased speed meant that the hurricane will be able to cover more ground, and may bring rain to communities in western Arizona and southern Nevada. These areas have a low average rainfall, meaning Hilary could deliver two years’ worth of rainfall in just a few hours.

Residents in the affected areas have been bracing for the storm, especially in southwestern California. In Palm Springs, the popular resort town 105 miles (170 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, hundreds of residents were filling sandbags on Saturday to prevent possible flooding. State authorities have not ruled out closing the highways that lead to the national parks of Death Valley and Joshua Tree.

Residents were also taking precautions in coastal cities such as Long Beach and San Pedro, located south of Los Angeles. Although the National Weather Service said that there is only a 5% chance of coastal flooding, these cities were hit hard by El Cordonazo, the last tropical storm that reached Californian soil. This tropical storm hit Southern California in September 1939, leaving 49 dead and dozens more missing.

The California government has mobilized around 7,500 personnel from the California National Guard to assist residents with efforts to prevent flooding and any rescue missions required. Of these, some 350 soldiers and 24 amphibious vehicles were already in position on Saturday in preparation for landfall. “We’re mobilizing all of government as we prepare and respond to this unprecedented storm,” Newsom said Saturday.

The services of some coastal trains, which connect Los Angeles with San Diego, have been temporarily suspended. Some 2,000 workers on the state's highway network have installed pumps to prevent flooding of roads in areas such as Orange County, which has a population of 3.1 million.

Local authorities have closed 10 Southern California public parks and four beaches in Orange and San Diego counties, meaning hundreds of camping reservations had to be cancelled. Some concerts, including events at the popular Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, were also cancelled due to the closures. Meanwhile, the state has strengthened the number of public security forces and lifeguards in coastal towns. State authorities also warned residents not to go swimming in the ocean during the storm.

Telephone and internet companies have warned that service cuts may occur due to the storm, while power companies have warned of possible outages. The professional baseball MLB and soccer league MLS rescheduled the games set for Sunday.

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