The Heat Is Online

A Succession of Rainstorms Drench Southern California

Lull in storms allows Calif. cleanup

Week of lightning, downpours, tornadoes dissipates; Arizona hit by floods

 The Associated Press, Jan. 23, 2010

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. - As hundreds of Californians prepare to return to evacuated homes, Arizona residents are digging or drying out after huge storms which flooded desert areas and buried mountain towns under feet of snow.
The biggest weather system to hit Arizona in nearly two decades flooded small towns, caused a train derailment and closed major interstates.
Snow collapsed roofs in the northern part of the state. Meanwhile, searchers looked for a 6-year-old boy swept away late Thursday in a flood.
Three others died in vehicle accidents this week — two on Interstate 40 east of Flagstaff and one in Phoenix — as a series of storms moved through the state. At least two people were killed by trees toppled by high winds in California in recent days.
The storm moved Friday into New Mexico, where high winds toppled a broadcasting tower in Alamogordo and Southwest Airlines cited concerns about winds and snow in suspending 14 flights in Albuquerque over a five-hour span Friday.
The West Coast was expected to get a one-day reprieve from the wet weather Saturday, before before the arrival of another storm, forecast for Sunday.
Dramatic rescue
Hundreds of California evacuees, meanwhile, were allowed to return home Friday as a week of lightning, vicious downpours and tornadoes dissipated into occasional thunderstorms. Still, tens of thousands of people remained without power throughout the state.
Flood control channels remained swollen and swift despite the drop in rainfall.
In one dramatic rescue, a firefighter splashed into a raging Los Angeles River to rescue a German shepherd mix and managed to hang on safely, even after the dog furiously bit his arm and hand.
Joe St. Georges, a 25-year Los Angeles Fire Department veteran, said he received a "real bite in the thumb" but was otherwise fine.
To the north in Ventura County, the body of a 40-year-old man was found Friday in an overflowing creek. Matthew Chidgey, 40, told his roommate he wanted to venture into the closed park to see what the waterfalls looked like during the storm.
 At least two other people in California were killed by trees toppled by high winds.
In Arizona, searchers spent Friday looking for a 6-year-old boy who was swept away in rising waters about 70 miles north of Phoenix as his family tried to take him to a hospital for treatment.
The boy's father and sister were also swept by the current, but managed to get to safety.
Dwight D'Evelyn, a Yavapai County sheriff's spokesman, said the boy was presumed dead.
The storms also drenched Las Vegas, where 1.69 inches of rain hit this week, more than the 1.59 inches of rain that fell all of last year.
In western Arizona, a 2-foot surge of runoff flooded streets and an unknown number of homes early Friday in Wenden, a community of 500 people.
Travel in northern Arizona was severely restricted with the closures of the main routes between Phoenix and Flagstaff.
Across metropolitan Phoenix, downed trees blocked driveways, and palm fronds and other debris from the storm littered the streets. A teenager died after the vehicle he was in lost control while traveling through water Thursday afternoon on a Phoenix street.
In Wenden in the southwest, flooding from the storm receded late Thursday but more water returned several hours later when a surge of runoff came through a nearby wash, said Lt. Glenn Gilbert, a spokesman for the La Paz County Sheriff's Office. Several busloads of people were evacuated from their homes in Wenden and taken to a high school five miles away in Salome.
"They're going to see their homes muddied up and basically destroyed," said Gregory Palma, chief of the local volunteer fire department. "They'll just move back in and rip off their dry wall and do what they gotta do."
At least three trailer parks near Black Canyon City were evacuated late Thursday and early Friday due to the rising Agua Fria River.
Also Friday, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, citing county estimates of 124 homes damaged by the storm and costs of more than $11 million for emergency response, building damage and debris cleanup.
States of emergency have been declared for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco and Siskiyou counties.
The declarations will allow the counties to obtain state reimbursement for much of their damage and cleanup costs, although state officials said it was unlikely that the damage was serious enough for them to qualify for federal emergency aid.
Long Beach counts cost
The city of Long Beach estimated $3 million in damage to homes and buildings. Flooding damaged the city's main library and buildings at California State University, Long Beach earlier in the week.
Ana Barenos said cars parked in her Long Beach neighborhood flooded up to the windows and water seeped into her basement. She blamed the city for not doing a better job clearing the storm drains before the heavy rains.
"We had to contract a company to take out the water and they took five hours to take all the water from under the house," she said. "It cost a lot of money. I think they should clean the drains before the (rainy) season."
Repairs crews around the region, meanwhile, worked around the clock to restore power to thousands left in the dark when lashing wind and falling trees knocked down power lines.
© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Soaked L.A. area hit by fourth storm

 Winds disrupt San Diego flights; evacuation orders for 1,200 homes

The Associated Press,  Jan. 21, 2010

LOS ANGELES - Southern California authorities strongly urged residents of endangered foothill homes to obey evacuation orders Thursday as the week's fourth Pacific storm blew into the region and flash flood watches were expanded to numerous urban areas, including downtown Los Angeles.

High winds forced some flights to be suspended out of San Diego's airport. In Phoenix, Ariz., the storm that hit Southern California on Wednesday was causing flight disruptions as well.

The siege of storms has led to several deaths across California and flooding in urban areas and on freeways.

Officials appeared concerned the lack of massive debris flows from wildfire burn areas was misleading for residents.

"It's time to roll, it's time to evacuate," said Los Angeles County Public Works Director Gail Farber.

In the upper reaches of suburban La Canada Flintridge, where mountainsides rise sharply from the backyards of homes, authorities put pink ribbons on the mailboxes of residents who stayed behind so they would know where to search in the event of a catastrophe.
One person who didn't leave was Delos Tucker, a retired geologist who has lived in the community since the homes were built in 1962.
"I'm just gambling it's not going to happen," he said. "Let's hope I'm right."

The county's extensive flood-control system was working, but many of the basins designed to catch debris-laden runoff from fire-scarred mountains were full and evacuations remained necessary, Farber said.

"The Los Angeles County Fire Department is anticipating that a significant mud flow and debris flow is likely today," said Chief Deputy John Tripp, announcing that fire departments in a five-county region had been put on alert that urban search and rescue teams might be needed.

Snow shuts the interstate again

The arrival of the new storm system shut down Interestate 5 in the snowy Tehachapi Mountains north of Los Angeles for the second day in row, interrupting travel on one of the state's major arteries. 

The storm was expected to drop 2 inches to 4 inches of rain in the already drenched foothills and mountains, with potentially strong downpours and intense rain rates, said National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Boldt.

Gusts up to 50 mph and up to 20 inches of snow in the mountains were also expected.

Waves of 15 to 20 feet pounded the coast, bringing the threat of flooding in beach communities.

Rain was expected to taper off by night, followed by showers on Friday and a dry weekend.

The major area of concern has been foothill communities along the perimeter of the San Gabriel Mountains, where a summer wildfire denuded 250 square miles of steep slopes northeast of Los Angeles.

Evacuation orders for 1,200 homes
The number of homes under evacuation orders has grown to more than 1,200 since the beginning of the week. Estimates of compliance have ranged up to 75 percent in some jurisdictions but down to 40 percent elsewhere.

As an overnight lull gave way to more rain at midmorning, public works crews shoveled mud from yards, driveways and gutters along Ocean View Boulevard in La Canada Flintridge. The neighborhood was otherwise all but deserted, with newspaper and mail deliveries cut off.
Tucker acknowledged that with catch basins filled with mud, water and debris, things could become difficult. But he said he had seen regrowth in the fire-scarred hills and believed it would hold soil in place.

At one point he left to bring his wife back from a visit to their daughter and defied a deputy who threatened to arrest him if he returned to his house. The deputy didn't follow through on the threat, and Tucker was not upset by the incident.

"They have to play it super safe," he said. "Obviously there is danger of a major mudflow coming down from the canyon."

Henrik Hairapetian, 40, who builds custom 4-by-4 vehicles for a living, said he was undeterred because his Hummer H-1 would help him and his family escape the mud.

"I've driven through some hairy stuff and I'm sure we can get out if we need to," he said.

Hairapetian's neighbors all evacuated their homes, leaving him to guard their small cul-de-sac next to a burned hillside, where little tufts of grass were beginning to sprout where the summer's wildfire consumed the vegetation that would normally capture or slow runoff.

Several deaths
Despite the statewide extent of the storms, the number of deaths remained low. Two people were killed by falling trees, and police in Newman were searching for the body of a man who tried to drive across a flooded road.

In San Jose, a man died after falling 30 feet from the side of a freeway after he got out of a car that spun out in the rain and then jumped out of the path of an out-of-control car.

In San Diego, the Border Patrol said three people were rescued and treated for hypothermia after being swept away while trying to cross the storm-swollen Tijuana River from Mexico.

California State University, Long Beach, remained closed after some buildings flooded Wednesday.

Southern California has a history of fatal debris flows: 30 killed and 483 homes destroyed in 1934 in the Los Angeles-area foothills, and 16 killed in 2003 to the east in the San Bernardino Mountains.

In Northern California, 50 homes were ordered evacuated as a central coast river rose near Felton Grove in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but it receded later in the day.

Since the beginning of the week, more than 300,000 Southern California Edison customers had lost power.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.