Risk of mudslides lingers for So. California

Credit: AP

Los Angeles police officers cross the rapidly-rising creek in Blanchard Canyon as rain continues to fall in the afternoon Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010. Several inches of rain have fallen and more rain is predicted as a series of storms move through California. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

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by By RAQUEL MARIA DILLON, Associated Press Writer

kgw.com

Posted on January 21, 2010 at 4:29 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 22 at 11:12 AM

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

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 rain have stopped.

A week of rain saturated areas burned bare by last year's 250-square-mile wildfire in the steep San Gabriel Mountains, putting homes at risk in a string of foothill communities 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.

Snow coated the mountains above the foothill neighborhoods Friday morning.

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, 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.

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."

Neighboring Arizona also was pounded with rain and snow that prompted a search for a boy who was swept away by rising waters, flooded an unknown number of homes in another community and left several hikers stranded.

A search was under way early Friday for the 6-year-old boy who was swept about 70 miles north of Phoenix near the community of Mayer. Dwight D'Evelyn, a spokesman for the Yavapai County Sheriff's Department, said the boy was presumed dead.

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 located about 100 miles west of Phoenix. No one was reported missing or injured.

In California, 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. 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.

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.

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