Los Angeles braces for potential El Nino downpour

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Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Los Angeles braces for potential El Nino downpour
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The Los Angeles City Swift Water Team said it's ready for potential conditions an El Nino could bring this winter.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Preparations are underway for what could be a severe winter, thanks to El Nino.

Emergency crews are looking at the 1997-1998 El Nino season as a precursor of what may be to come this winter.

That season, roads turned into rivers and stranded people were plucked by helicopter from deadly situations.

In all, 17 lives were claimed due to the weather and more than $500 million in damage was caused throughout the Golden State.

The Los Angeles City Swift Water Team is responsible for pulling people from raging storm channels and other dangerous flooding situations.

They said they're ready for what El Nino has in store for them this winter.

"We train every year as if we're going to have an El Nino," Capt. Tom Henzgen with the swift water team said. "LAFD Swift Water is ready."

With so many dire El Nino predictions, the city's 48 member swift water team will battle conditions in gear considerably upgraded since the last El Nino challenges.

And officials said they may need every advantage they can get this time around.

"If the prediction holds true, I think you'll see these channels at peak and we'll have issues in underground parking garages and surface streets that are flooded," Henzgen said. "I think we can expect different types of rescues in addition to channel type rescues."

To help the swift water team, officials with the Los Angeles County's Department of Public Works have spent most of the year clearing out debris basins and making sure its 14 dams and 450 miles of storm channels are ready for the downpour an El Nino could bring.

"The bigger challenge is when we have these tropical like downpours that drop a huge amount of precipitation in a very short amount of time over a very limited area," Bob Spencer with the department of public works said.

Spencer points to October's mud flows in the Antelope Valley as an example.

He said the department of public works emergency operations center is activated in dangerous weather situations and the department's dispatch center is now up and running around the clock.

But even though the county said its flood control system is ready for El Nino, it admits it has its limits.

"While they're designed to minimize the risk of events like this, they don't eliminate the risk entirely and we're certainly looking to the community to join us in this effort because it's critical for the community to prepare for this event as well," Spencer said.

For the latest coverage of El Nino from ABC7 Eyewitness News, click here.