Driver Killed When Floods Slam Southern California Mountain Communities

A flash flood swept a car off a mountain road and into a creek, leaving one person dead inside as heavy downpours from a summer storm hit Southern California and stranded hundreds of people on Sunday.

The victim was at Mt. Baldy Road and Bear Canyon Drive in Mt. Baldy when the rush of water came, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said. The coroner's office identified the victim as Joo-Hwan Lee, a 48-year-old El Segundo man.

A cause of death was not immediately determined.

Emergency crews spent the day performing rescues and evacuations in the mountains and searching for potential victims who could be trapped in vehicles submerged in debris and mud. A family of five and their dog were airlifted in Mt. Baldy, where storm waters and mudflow were rushing through the canyons, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tweeted.

"They were still questioning why they needed to leave, fortunately we had a couple of seconds before that debris flow did hit them, or hit that area, and they were able to be safely evacuated," said Robert Ethridge of the U.S. Forest Service.

In the mountain community of Forest Falls, crews rescued one resident from rising waters, San Bernardino County fire officials said. Crews were also checking vehicles in that area for anyone who could be stranded. Residents were asked to shelter in place until flood waters receded.

An evacuee who was caught in a flash flood in the wilderness north of Azusa said he fled moments before the rush of water wiped out a campsite.

"We just ran, we didn't carry nothing," said Ronnie Morales.

Morales said crews were out alerting campers about the imminent danger before the water began to rise.

"If they wouldn’t have come within 30 seconds it would’ve got us walking," he said.

A flash flood watch was extended until 11:15 p.m. for central San Bernardino County, the NWS said.

In Forest Falls, the creek bed along Valley of the Falls Drive was evacuted due to the flooding. A portion of the street was closed to non-residents, fire officials said. However, there were no immediate reports of injuries or damages, officials said.

Roads blocked by mudflows forced 500 children and adults to stay overnight at Forest Home, a church camp in Forest Falls, said San Bernardino Fire Capt. Kyle Hauducoeur. Another 1,000 residents have been impacted by flooding and mudlsides, Hauducoeur added.

Significant flooding stranded residents in Oak Glen with five separate debris flows blocking access to the community, Cal Fire Information Officer Elizabeth Brown said. Aerial video showed mud and debris across mountains road Monday morning near Mt. Baldy.

Flash flood warnings and watches were issued in Southern California for most of Sunday, including areas of Riverside County, the eastern San Gabriel Mountains in Los Angeles County, the Coachella and Antelope valleys, and San Bernardino County, Riverside County and Los Angeles County mountains.

Los Angeles County was expected to see scattered showers in the afternoon and evening with a chance for thunderstorms as temperatures linger in the upper-70s and mid-80s.

By late Saturday night, scattered rain was coming down on the Westside to the Inland Empire after the system moved in from San Diego.

This period of showers are only a brief respite from California’s drought, one of the worst in the state’s history.

The monsoon conditions that led to the slow-moving thunderstorms will likely clear out by Monday afternoon for sunshine and clear skies.

Gadi Schwartz and Elita Loresca contributed to this report.

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