The Heat Is Online

LA Rains Leave Tens of Millions in Damages

Damage estimates soaring in California storms

On the bright side: Water supplies are way up and ski areas have plenty of snow, Dec. 25, 2010
HIGHLAND, Calif. — Leslie Constante burst into tears when she saw a red tag slapped on her parents' garage in Highland, deeming it unsafe to enter.
"My mom and dad worked so hard for this," said the 29-year-old pharmacy technician, wearing knee high rubber boots.
She couldn't get inside to see how bad the damage was to Chyistmas presents and other belongings. Out front, two holiday reindeer were enveloped in mud several feet deep.
Many California residents who endured flooding, mudslides and evacuations during a weeklong onslaught of rain must now clean up or even rebuild — and some face the prospect of not being able to spend Christmas at home.
Damage estimates in Southern California were in the tens of millions of dollars. In the San Bernardino County community of Highland alone, damage was estimated at $17 million, and an Orange County spokesman estimated it at $23 million. In Riverside County, the damage estimate was nearing $30 million.
San Diego County also saw heavy flooding in Mission Valley along Interstate 8, with Qualcomm Stadium flooded; crews had to pump an estimated 1.5 million gallons of water out in time for the Poinsettia Bowl game between San Diego State and Navy on Thursday night. The game went on as scheduled, and San Diego State won 35-14.
The storm's push across the West left a muddy mess Thursday across Southern California and the threat of avalanches in Nevada, where Clark County officials urged residents of Mount Charleston, near Las Vegas, to leave after snow slides near two mountain hamlets.
A state of emergency was declared in a total of nine counties, including Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Barbara.
In Highland, people were chased from their homes by walls of mud and water, leaving behind dwellings strung with holiday lights. They returned Thursday to find their neighborhood inundated with mud. Five homes were destroyed and nearly 70 others damaged.
Work crews tried to reopen more than a dozen canyon and mountain roads that were closed by slides and floods. Reopening times were listed simply as "unknown" for most.
Ibeth Garcia returned to her home surrounded by mud 4 feet deep to retrieve Christmas presents and clothes left behind when her family fled a dirty torrent.
"We left with just our shoes, cell phones and car keys," said Garcia, 26. "We didn't have time for anything else."
They found a light coating of mud inside the house and considered themselves lucky — some neighboring homes were uninhabitable.
Along the coast in the county, the upscale community of Laguna Beach suffered an estimated $4 million in damage to 46 businesses and 20 homes.
A section of the city's popular beachfront park was washed away, leaving chunks of mud and a gaping open space where green grass had been the day before.
Roads also remained a problem. Crews shut sections of Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles and Orange counties to remove loose rocks and clean up mudflow from hillsides. Further inland, rock and mudslides forced the closure of five state routes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The rain also washed trash, pesticides and bacteria into waterways, prompting health warnings. Four beaches were closed in Northern California's San Mateo County, and another 12 miles of beach from Laguna Beach to San Clemente in Orange County were off-limits because of sewer overflows.
Curtis Duran, 45, and his two children strolled the trash-strewn beach in Long Beach and surveyed debris carried to the shoreline by the Los Angeles River.
Cans,  baseballs, plastic bottles and even a baby's high chair sat on the sand mixed with piles of discarded wood and shards of plastic. "We come down here all the time, and I've never seen so much," Duran said.
In the Central Valley agricultural region, Tulare County officials said farms and dairies had been hard hit by flooding. About 300 homes were damaged, and 25 roads remained closed.
About 25 homes sustained damage in Kern County at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, while a highway through the Kern River canyon was expected to remain closed through the end of the year after "truck-sized rocks" were washed onto it, fire spokesman Sean Collins said.
But state officials saw at least a few bright spots to the series of storms that have battered California since last week.
"We don’t want to be overly optimistic, but recent storms have given us the best early season water supply outlook in five years," state water chief Mark Cowin told the San Diego Union.
San Diego remains at a Level 2 drought status, which includes mandatory conservation, the newspaper said; some other districts had returned to voluntary measures before the most recent storms.
And snowpack levels in Northern and Central California are running roughly twice as high as average for early winter, according to the state Department of Water Resources.
Ski areas in the Lake Tahoe area were reveling in the abundant snow. Dawn Fishler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno, told the Sacramento Bee that Tahoe City saw 70.5 inches of snow in November, just 3.5 inches shy of the 1994 record. So far this month, the area has received 30.5 inches.
This article contains reporting by The Associated Press and staff.