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Dec 12, 2014 3:50 PM

Southern California mudflows trigger evacuations

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) A soaking storm swept into Southern California, triggering several mudslides, flooding streets and cutting power to tens of thousands Friday after lashing the rest of the state with much-needed rain.

The deluge from the storm's intense, early-morning arrival caused part of a hillside about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles to give way. Debris brushed aside concrete barriers crews had set up on the slope and surrounded about a dozen homes with silt, sticks and rocks as large as a couch. In several backyards, the muck was piled up to the roofline.

The force was so great that two large earthmovers used to set up barriers were swept down to the street, with one nearly buried.

"Wow, are we lucky!" said Ted Elliot, whose house was barely spared.

"We'll be the only house on the block," his wife, Rita, added.

Beyond the Elliots' neighborhood in Camarillo, damage in Southern California mainly was minor, and there were no reported deaths tied to the storm.

Los Angeles Fire Department personnel rescued two people from the storm-swollen Los Angeles River. Orange County fire officials pulled a body from a concrete flood channel, though the cause of death wasn't clear.

While the rain was welcome, experts say California needs many more such storms to pull out of a drought lasting three years.

Of immediate concern were hillsides, stripped bare by wildfires, which loom over some neighborhoods. Though the fast-moving storm was projected to clear out east and reach Nevada and Arizona later in the day, the risk remained that sodden topsoil no longer held in place by roots could give way.

In Camarillo, where a 2013 fire blackened a hillside, mandatory evacuations were ordered for 124 homes, and some people needed help leaving because of property damage, Ventura County sheriff's Capt. Don Aguilar said. Forty people came to an evacuation center, and two went to the hospital with minor medical issues, Red Cross spokesman Tom Horan said.

Earthen avalanches also blocked part of the Pacific Coast Highway in Ventura County. Street and freeway flooding snarled the morning commute, as did numerous accidents.

Wind-driven rain fell at the rate of 1 to 2 inches an hour, triggering some flash flooding, the National Weather Service said.

Utility crews were restoring electricity to the 50,000 customers who lost it in areas served by Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The storm system has been blamed for two deaths in Oregon, thousands of power outages in Washington and flooded roadways in the San Francisco Bay Area.

While the sun rose Friday in a dry San Francisco sky, the storm's affects lingered in Northern California.

In Sonoma County, the Russian River was approaching flood stage and was expected to crest several feet above it by early afternoon. Officials advised residents of about 300 homes to evacuate low-lying areas.

Authorities warned of minor flooding along the Sacramento River in Tehama County and Cache Creek in Yolo County. In a subdivision east of Red Bluff, the water from a creek spilled into a bathtub and over a bed.

As the storm crept down the coast overnight, its powerful winds caused power outages around Santa Barbara. Amtrak suspended service between Los Angeles and the central coast city of San Luis Obispo. Ski resorts in the northern Sierra Nevada were hoping for 3 feet of snow once it all settles.

Meanwhile, a debris flow was sending rocks the size of golf balls and bricks down streets in suburban Glendora east of Los Angeles, the site of the devastating Colby Fire in January, police Lt. Matt Williams said. Five people were using an evacuation center but the exact number who fled their homes isn't yet known, he said. No injuries or damage to homes were immediately reported.

Possible slides in the neighboring city of Azusa on the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains led to some evacuations.

In Orange County, sheriff's deputies went door to door before dawn to tell residents of fire-scarred Silverado Canyon to evacuate because of rainfall predictions.

Some rejoiced in the rain. Adriana Fletcher, 39, of Huntington Beach, said her 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds were happy to see the precipitation after learning about the drought in school.

"When it started raining, my kids were like, 'This is so cool,'" Fletcher said.


Associated Press writers Raquel Maria Dillon in Camarillo, Courtney Bonnell in Phoenix, Amy Taxin in Huntington Beach, Michael R. Blood in Seal Beach, Don Thompson in Sacramento and Kristin Bender and Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed to this report.


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