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As Hurricane Hilary approaches, Palm Springs braces for direct impact

Los Angeles (U.S.), Aug . 20, 2023

As gray clouds loomed low over the San Jacinto Mountains, dozens of Palm Springs residents crowded around a pit of sand at City Hall, rushing to fill bags to prep their houses for projected flooding from Hurricane Hilary.

“Since yesterday about 8 a.m, the crowds have been just like this all day. Nonstop,” said Daniel Martinez, the acting deputy director for the Department of Maintenance and Facilities.

He pointed to another truck, arriving to dump sand into the pit, where residents stood shoulder to shoulder — arms glistening with sweat from labouring amid the thick, hot air.

“As soon as it gets here, you’ll see the sand disappear,” he said.

Since Friday morning, more than 22,000 sandbags have been handed out to residents at local fire stations, said Daniel De Selms, the city’s emergency management coordinator.

By noon Saturday, another 20,000 were on track to arrive. Each household is allotted 10 bags.

De Selms said the city was preparing for road closures and potential power outages.

As residents rush to stores to stock up on food and water and to the sand pit at City Hall, he said he wanted to remind everyone that “we’re all going to be in this bad weather together. Human kindness goes a long way.”

In Palm Springs, neighbours expressed concern for the older population of retired residents, who might not be as fit to manually prepare for the weather — as well as the community of unhoused people who reside along a wash that is expected to flood.

Since Friday morning, the Police Department has been flying helicopters over the washes, urging unhoused people to move their tents away from the creek and into safety, said Mike Vasadan, a patrol sergeant for the Palm Springs Police Department.

National Weather Service forecasters’ warning of lashing winds, intense rain, and harrowing conditions along the beaches prompted Los Angeles County officials to advise people on Catalina Island, particularly those with medical conditions or those who might be in need of help during a natural disaster, to evacuate on the Catalina Express.

The county noted there could be prolonged utility outages on the island.

Flood concerns also prompted San Bernardino County sheriff‘s officials to issue an evacuation warning for the Oak Glen, Forest Falls, Mountain Home Village, Angelus Oaks and Northeast Yucaipa areas Saturday morning.

The storm has prompted officials to cancel events and issue dire alerts, with the system expected to move across southwestern California on Sunday and Monday.

The National Weather Service issued a tropical storm warning at 8 p.m Friday (0300 Saturday GMT) for the area from the California-Mexico border to Point Mugu and for Catalina Island.

Around 12:45 pm (1945 GMT) Saturday, the San Bernardino County fire station in Twentynine Palms ran out of sandbags for the second time in as many days.

The station gave out about 2,500 bags Friday and 3,000 Saturday, a firefighter said as he taped a sign to the door informing residents that they had no more.

It wasn’t clear if another order of 5,000 bags to be split among stations in the Morongo Basin would arrive before the storm, he added.

There was plenty of stuff to fill the bags with, though.

Residents passed around a shovel to scoop sand from the fire station parking lot.

More people were pulled over along Amboy Road leading out of town, shoveling sand from the shoulder of the two-lane highway.

Rebecca Rasmusson and Martin Reem, both Marines, said they’d been fighting about whether they needed to get sandbags ahead of the storm.

In the end, they decided they did.

“I figured we might as well put in the work now so we’re not sorry later,” Rasmusson said in the fire station parking lot as she scooped sand into a bag. “We’re preparing for the worst.”

They’d loaded up on water and groceries, including food that can be grilled if the power goes out, and made sure they had flashlights and filled up their car with gas, she said.

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