Mudslides Threaten as S. California Storms Linger

Published January 25, 2010

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. (AP) — The tail end of a Pacific storm was expected to bring occasionally heavy showers Friday as hundreds of Southern Californians who evacuated were warned that mudslides and flooding still threatened their foothill homes.

Hundreds of evacuees were expected to learn sometime Friday whether it was safe for them to return. Officials have said the risk of mudslides can last up to 72 hours after the rains have stopped.

A week of rain left hillsides saturated below areas burned bare by last year's 250-square-mile wildfire in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles.

Evacuation orders remained in effect for more than 1,200 homes as the National Weather Service warned of scattered showers and thunderstorms through the evening that could drop up to an inch of rain an hour at times.

There also could be an additional 4 to 8 inches of snow in the mountains.

In communities below burn areas, only minor slides were reported but flash flood watches remained in effect.

"This rain is still pouring down," Los Angeles County sheriff's spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.

A week of storms has brought 8 to 10 inches of rain to the Los Angeles-area mountains, while lower-lying areas got about half that, National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Boldt said.

Most Southern California areas will see about a half-inch of rain Friday but areas hit by brief but fierce thunderstorms could get 1 to 2 inches, Boldt said.

Authorities said an extensive flood-control system was working, but many of the basins designed to catch debris-laden runoff from fire-scarred mountains were full as the region entered a fifth straight day of rain.

Soil experts planned to examine the ground in Los Angeles County burn areas to determine whether it was safe to allow evacuees to return. The weather was expected to dry out over the weekend before yet another storm front moved in but officials have warned that the risk of mudslides can extend for 72 hours after the rain stops.

"I don't think we're out of the woods yet," Nishida said.

The forecast calls for a dry weekend.

Justin Ross whooped and hollered while he dug his shovel furiously into the 3-foot deep mud that was quickly rising beside his parents' house Thursday in the La Canada Flintridge foothills north of downtown Los Angeles.

Ross, 23, stopped only to dip his fingers in the muck and wiped a streak across each cheek, as water the color of chocolate milk poured down the steep slope.

"I put on the war paint and started screaming a sort of war whoop. It was a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration," he said during a break between squalls Thursday afternoon. "I feel like I've been shoveling for four days straight because I have."

The siege of Pacific storms has led to several deaths statewide, flooded urban areas and turned the region's often-dry river and creek channels into raging torrents.

A young man was pulled from a rushing river in Orange County on Thursday, but rescuers couldn't confirm his report that a companion got swept away following a fruitless search.

Travel snarls mounted Thursday as major highways were closed by snow and tornado damage, and strong winds grounded flights at several airports. Another tornado left a trail of damage in a community northwest of Los Angeles. The highways were reopened by Friday morning.

A motorist was rescued after a tornado knocked power lines onto a highway in the state's remote southeast corner, trapping the man inside his vehicle.

A small tornado struck two neighborhoods in Ventura, toppling trees, damaging cars and tearing apart a shed in two neighborhoods.

Acting Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco and Siskiyou counties because of the statewide storm impacts.

The basins are located on streams and other water courses emerging from the mountains to intercept surges of mud, boulders and other debris while allowing water to flow into open channels and underground storm drains that empty into the ocean.


Written by <P>By The Associated Press</P>

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