IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hilary focused much of her fury on low desert communities in the Coachella Valley

Dozens of rescues took place in Cathedral City, where residents of a care home who couldn't walk were taken out in a bulldozer's bucket.
Get more newsLiveonNBC News Now

Some of Tropical Storm Hilary's heaviest weather targeted the normally sun-soaked Coachella Valley, where floodwaters, mudflow and a sinkhole prompted multiple rescues.

In Cathedral City, east of Palm Springs, first responders rescued 47 people in a 24-hour stretch, in some cases as water and mud continued to rise around them, officials said Monday.

Six residents of a care home near an expanding sinkhole were among those saved. They don't have the ability to walk, so rescuers used the bucket of a bulldozer to lift them to safety, fire Chief Michael Contreras said at a news conference.

Seven people were plucked from vehicles stranded in floodwater and mud, some trapped by dirt and debris that rose to the top of fenders, the chief said.

Traffic is slowed as water and mud from Tropical Storm Hilary covers part of Interstate 10 between Indio and Palm Springs, Calif., on Aug. 21, 2023.
Traffic is slowed as water and mud from Tropical Storm Hilary cover part of Interstate 10 between Indio and Palm Springs, Calif., on Monday.David Swanson / AFP - Getty Images

Flooding north of Cathedral City was powerful enough Monday to move eight parked rail cars from their tracks at a storage facility, railway operator Union Pacific said.

The hard-hit communities of Cathedral City and Palm Springs are in California's low-lying and normally parched Colorado Desert and its Coachella Valley, which channels rainwater and runoff to the lowlands of the Salton Sea. The valley's name is used by the Coachella Music & Arts Festival, normally held each spring in nearby Indio.

Record rainfall from Hilary overwhelmed Palm Springs, which got nearly 50% of its yearly rainfall in less than a day.

Flash floods submerged roads, residential neighborhoods and golf courses throughout the typically arid city in Riverside County. Palm Springs recorded 3.18 inches of rain Sunday, which not only made for the wettest summer day the city has ever had but was also the record for the most rain in a single day.

Mayor Grace Garner urged residents to stay home as officials assess damage to roads, making travel around the area unsafe.

"We have not heard of any fatalities related to this storm," Garner told MSNBC on Monday. "We have had several swift-water rescues, and I've been helping out neighboring cities, but we are very well prepared." 

The 911 dispatch system went down late Sunday, and Palm Springs police urged people to text or call an alternative number for immediate help. Garner said that a temporary fix was put in place but that lines were down across the Coachella Valley.

Interstate 10, the coast-to-coast roadway that serves as the area's only major freeway, reopened Monday afternoon after it was closed in both directions overnight, Contreras said.

Roughly two dozen streets had also been closed in the area as a result of flooding, according to NBC affiliate KMIR of Palm Springs.

Sean Jacobs, who lives near the Palm Springs airport, is originally from Michigan and has seen floods before. But even he said he was a bit in awe of the damage from Sunday’s storm, fearing that the flooded interstate is a bad sign.

“It’s overwhelming really ... seeing this destruction,” Jacobs said. “How long will it take to get it cleaned up and people can be on their way to work again?”

He added that he felt bad for the people whose homes and cars were damaged, noting that people and their pets are essentially stranded at the moment.

“A lot of people are kind of laughing this off and thinking that it is not a big deal, but it is,” Jacobs said. “And it’s going to affect people for a long time.”

Residents have shared video and photos of high-standing water across Palm Springs on social media.

Not only were vehicles stranded amid floodwater or planted in mud, but the storm ultimately stranded some Coachella Valley residents in their homes.

Members of the National Guard were deployed to help local authorities clear the roads.

The Cathedral City Facebook page said about 50 mobile homes flooded at the Canyon Mobile Home Park. First responders rescued four residents, fire Chief Contreras said Monday.

"Water rose faster than they could prepare for," he said.