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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 6:13 am | Fair 43º


Some 100 Vehicles Stranded Due to Flooding On Highway 166 in northeastern Santa Barbara County

Roadway is shut down for several hours after deluge causes water and debris flows

A big-rig is stopped on Highway 166 in northeastern Santa Barbara County after thunderstorms in the area caused roadway flooding.
A big-rig is stopped on Highway 166 in northeastern Santa Barbara County after thunderstorms in the area caused roadway flooding. (Alfred Gonzalez / Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo)

An estimated 100 vehicles, including a school bus, became stranded for some time along Highway 166 in northeastern Santa Barbara County on Friday afternoon as heavy thunderstorms soaked the area.

Authorities shut down the east-west highway linking the Central Coast and southern San Joaquin Valley for a few hours Friday, according to the California Highway Patrol. The road reopened by 8 p.m.

Crews on scene reported large flows of water on the highway at multiple locations at about 4:30 p.m.

Additionally, others reported large debris flows — approximately 50 yards wide — along and across the highway near Cottonwood Canyon.

A school bus driver reported his large vehicle was stuck in the mud on Highway 166 near Spanish Ranch, according to California Highway Patrol emergency dispatch reports.

The bus driver was able to free the vehicle and continue, according to Capt. Dave Zaniboni of Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

No one was injured and no one needed to be rescued, according to Zaniboni. 

Initial reports estimated the number of stranded vehicles at more than 200.

Shortly after 5 p.m., authorities said stranded vehicles were moving slowly through the flooded area.

Crews from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's and Fire departments responded to the incident along with CHP officers. The Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue Team was also sent to the scene.

The Fire Department's water-rescue team was dispatched, with crews coming from west of the flooding told to stage at the intersection of Highway 166 and Tepusquet Road. 

By 5:30 p.m., most of the emergency crews were released from the scene or canceled as the incident commander determined the situation had calmed down and the threat of more bad weather had passed.

Caltrans was working to remove mud from the road Friday night.

Traffic on the highway has been heavier than normal due to the closure of Interstate 5 at the Grapevine north of Los Angeles.

The incident is reminiscent of the Feb. 24, 1998 washout that led to the death of two Santa Maria-based CHP officers, Rick Stovall and Britt Irvine, plus another man. Two other motorists were injured when their vehicles plunged off the road into the rain-swollen Cuyama River into the middle of the night approximately 13 miles east of Santa Maria.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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