Heavy rain hits Southern California; burn areas stable for now

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AP Photo/Denis Poroy

A woman looks at muddy runoff from Aliso Creek meeting the Pacific Ocean in Laguna Beach, Calif. Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010. Downtown Laguna Beach was closed by up to 4 feet of storm runoff, which receded but left streets awash in mud. After days of relentless rain, Southern California on Wednesday was facing the most intense storm system yet, with hundreds of homes evacuated, roads covered with water and mud, and residents anxiously eyeing already saturated mountainsides denuded by wildfires.

After days of relentless rain, Southern California was hit by the most intense storm system yet, with evacuations ordered, roads covered by water and mud, and residents anxiously eyeing already saturated mountainsides denuded by wildfires.

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Mudslides close 241 Toll Road in Orange County

Mudslides forced the closure of the 241 Toll Road in Orange County today, between the 133 and Santiago Canyon Road.

The agency in charge of the toll roads expects the 241 to remain closed through tonight and into tomorrow morning.

Several Orange County canyon roads also remain closed because of mudslides, flooding and storm damage, including Black Star Canyon Road, Modjeska Canyon Road between Santiago Canyon Road and Modjeska Grade, Santiago Canyon Road from the 241 to Ridgeline and Live Oak Canyon Road.

Several coastal routes also are closed, including Laguna Canyon Road from the 73 Toll Road to downtown Laguna Beach, Pacific Coast Highway from Palisades to Camino Capistrano and southbound Pacific Coast Highway between Warner and Seapointe.

Orange County emergency operations officials say mandatory evacuations remain in place for residents of Williams Canyon and several roads in Silverado Canyon. There's a voluntary evacuation for residents along Bell Road in Dove Canyon.

A voluntary evacuation of homes in San Juan Capistrano next to San Juan Creek was lifted at 3 p.m. today.

- Susan Valot

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Congressman Schiff urges residents in mud affected areas to evacuate

Evacuation orders are still in effect for some neighborhoods in the La Canada/Flintridge and La Crescenta areas. But Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who represents foothill areas, says he’s getting reports that most people who live in those areas are ignoring evacuation warnings. He calls that’s a terrible mistake and urges them to reconsider.

"I want to emphasize to people that have been told to evacuate, they need to get out," Schiff said. "We’ve seen the force that these torrential rains can bring. Major trees moved around like they’re children’s toys, so you really need to get out if they tell you to get out. "

Schiff acknowledges the inconvenience of moving out of the house three days before Christmas. But he says the time authorities spend coaxing people out of their houses is time they can’t spend on other important emergency tasks.

- Kitty Felde

Updated at 12:53 p.m. | Permalink

Mud piles high in downtown Laguna Beach

Mud piled high in downtown Laguna Beach on Pacific Coast Highway. Crews have been out all morning with shovels and bulldozers trying to clean up the mess, particularly in the block front of the historic Laguna Beach cinema.

Jeff Van de Veere lives down the road above a gallery right on the beach.

“Well our house is not bad at all, but right down the street … home decorations,” he says with a laugh.

Authorities have sent warnings to business and home owners in the area that another storm may hit later this afternoon.

Officials closed several blocks around downtown Laguna Beach to car traffic as the clean up continues.

- Shirley Jahad

Updated at 12:10 p.m. | Permalink

Voluntary evacuation locations in San Juan Capistrano

Officials have called for a voluntary evacuation of an area in San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. The alert was issued after concerns over the stability of the Trabuco Creek levee and calls for residents to leave areas south of Del Obispo Street, east of Alipaz Street and west of the railroad tracks.

Three Red Cross shelters have been opened for storm victims: One at Mission Viejo High School (25025 Chrisanta Drive), another rat El Modena High School (3920 Spring Street) and a third at Laguna Beach High School at 625 Park Ave.

- Susan Valot and Eric Zassenhaus

Updated at 11:07 a.m. | Permalink

19,877 homes and businesses without power in OC, IE

Southern California Edison reported 19,876 customers without power. The most impacted areas:

Indian Wells, Palm Desert, Rolling Hills, El Toro, Rancho Santa Margarita, West Covina, San Bernardino, city of Orange, Redlands.

- Gina Delvac

Updated at 10:53 a.m. | Permalink

Forecast: Worst may be over for rain-soaked Calif.

A storm that flooded Southern California and forced dozens of evacuations appears to be easing, but authorities say the threat of mudslides will continue for weeks in areas denuded by wildfires.

Read the full story here.

Updated at 9:53 a.m. | Permalink

Heavy rains cause flooding, mudslides in Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach has taken the brunt of today’s storm. Laguna Beach Police Lieutenant Jason Kravetz says it started shortly after 2 this morning; they got a call from a man who said there was mud flowing into his home.

"On Laguna Canyon Road, the water rescue teams had to use boats to go out and rescue folks, so the roadway was like a big lake," says Kravetz. "In the downtown area, we also flooded here. It looked like the Pacific Ocean had actually encroached into the downtown area and it was actually just the flood waters hitting the ocean."

Kravetz says the water’s receded greatly, but there’s still a lot of mud to clean up.

They’re also worried that more rain could bring more problems. There’s a storm cell off the coast, moving toward Orange County. Officials say it might bring the heaviest rain of the day. Laguna Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway through Laguna Beach remain closed.

- Patricia Nazario

Updated at 9:39 a.m. | Permalink

Swift water rescue teams search churning LA River

Swift water rescue teams are stationed along a wide swath of the storm-swollen Los Angeles River for possible victims caught up in the swift current.

KTLA-TV says the Los Angeles Fire Department was notified that people may have been swept away early Wednesday at San Fernando Valley locations - one at White Oak Avenue and the other at Coldwater Canyon Avenue.

Burbank and Glendale fire department squads are also watching downstream for possible victims.

Swift water rescue squads were dispatched to river overpasses but no one has been spotted in the concrete-line river, a 51-mile storm runoff channel to the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach.

A rain-soaked hillside collapsed on portions of a busy Interstate 10 transition road east of Los Angeles as relentless rains continue soaking California.

Forecasters have issued ominous warnings that another drenching squall is poised to strike Southern California Wednesday morning. Evacuations have been ordered, rescue crews are on standby and residents in foothill wildfire burn areas are anxiously eyeing already runoff waters.

In the Pomona area just before 3 a.m. Wednesday, the California Highway Patrol shut down three lanes of the westbound I-10 transition to State Route 57 because of a landslide covering three lanes. A landslide hit the same area in February.

Elsewhere, commuter travel is a nightmare: Overwhelmed freeway drains left hubcap-deep pools of water on roadways and flipped vehicles and fender-bender crashes litter roadways at 4:30 a.m.

- The Associated Press

Updated at 9:37 a.m. | Permalink

Forecast: Worst may soon be over for rain-soaked California

A storm that flooded Southern California and forced dozens of evacuations appears to be easing, but authorities say the threat of mudslides will continue for weeks in areas denuded by wildfires.

The National Weather Service says the relentless rain of the past few days will turn to fierce, brief thunderstorms Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, storm runoff and mud has prompted the evacuation of about 30 people in Silverado Canyon in Orange County. Authorities also say downtown Laguna Beach was closed Wednesday morning by up to 4 feet of storm runoff, which receded but left streets awash in mud.

Evacuation orders also remain in effect for about 200 homes in Los Angeles-area foothill communities.

- Gillian Flaccus, The Associated Press

Updated at 9:31 a.m. | Permalink

Serious storm cell about to hit Orange County

The storm moving in right now is expected to be the worst of the day with heavy rain. It's expected to arrive in Orange County around 9:40.

People in homes that are currently safe are advices to "shelter in place" so they don't get stuck on area roads.

Firefighters have been told that, unless they're doing an active rescue, they should shelter in place at a residence due to the storm moving in.

- Susan Valot & KPCC Staff

Updated at 9:27 a.m. | Permalink

The following roads in Orange County have been closed:

  • Santiago Canyon between the 261/241 Tollroad on ramps and Cook’s Corner
  • Modjeska Canyon
  • Trabuco Canyon Road past Rose Canyon
  • Modjeska Grade between Santiago Canyon and Shadow Canyon
  • Live Oak closed at O’Neil Park
  • Harding Canyon Bridge
  • Santiago Canyon Kitterman Bridge
  • Oso Parkway westbound at Antonio Parkway
  • Laguna Canyon Road (73 Tollroad) and all streets in downtown Laguna Beach
  • Ortega Highway at La Pata
  • Lake Forest Drive between Muirlands and Jeronimo
  • 241Tollroad northbound between the 133 and 261 Tollroads

- Susan Valot

Updated at 9:17 a.m. | Permalink

Heavy rains hit La Canada-Flintridge, La Crescenta

The National Weather Service is predicting up to 2 inches of rain per hour today, along with thunder, lightning and possibly hail and tornados. The storm is expected to last through the afternoon. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency for six counties in Southern California.

Included in that is Orange County, where parts of Laguna Beach are already under water.

In La Canada-Flintridge and La Crescenta officials issued an evacuation notice for more than 140 houses. The worry is that there will be mudslides in areas burned last year in the Station Fire.

KPCC reporter Brian Watt is in La Crescenta and spoke with KPCC's "Madeleine Brand Show." People in the area Brian Watt is in have had to evacuate several times in the past year. They haven't had to evacuate yet during this storm, but have been told to be on alert and ready to evacuate if necessary.

Blankets of rain have been coming through, drenching the area, with drizzle in between the waves of rain. As Watt said, "When it comes, it comes hard."

Around 5 p.m. yesterday afternoon, residents in this area received phone calls from authorities letting them know to be prepared. Further east in La Canada-Flintridge, evacuation orders have been issued. Many have chosen to stay and ride out the storm.

There are not many sandbags set up. You can see that plant life hasn't returned to the hills since earlier wildfires, leaving them open to mudslides.

- Brian Watt, Steve Proffit & Mike Roe

Updated at 9:01 a.m. | Permalink

Dramatic rescue in Silverado Canyon

Yesterday in eastern Orange County, a helicopter crew found four young men who were separated from their car by a river that swelled from the rain; they were brought to safety. But that did not end the problems in Silverado Canyon.

Orange County Fire Authority Captain Greg McKewon is in Silverado Canyon, where firefighters rescued a man trapped in his car in a flood control channel.

On the rescue:

"I was actually on my way to Silverado Canyon and we found out a report of a motorist that went into a waterway, flood control channel, and he actually left the freeway in his vehicle and went through a fence and ended up in the flood control. The water is moving so fast that it started carrying him downstream where his car came to rest up against a large wall.

"Our firefighters, our urban search and rescue and swift water rescue firefighters were able to locate him and were able to make a dramatic rescue. The gentleman was actually still in his vehicle when we got here. We had gotten a call via 911 from him; as his car was floating down the river, he made a cell phone call. Pretty amazing."

On the storm system splitting and hitting Orange County:

"Where I'm at right now in central Orange County, there was some heavy rain. It just kind of let up, but it's been raining pretty heavy all morning."

On the rest of the day:

"We're supposed to be getting rain throughout the afternoon and what we want to get is a safety message out to folks, not just in the low, flat-lying areas, but also in the canyons and mountain areas, is that the ground is so saturated right now that we could have mudslides and debris flows quite easily. Just be aware of what's going on around you and don't get a false sense of security.

"Really, with water, if you see standing or running water, just stay away from it. Don't try to walk through it, don't try to drive through it; you just don't know where you could end up or what's underneath that water.

"We actually had a report of some manhole covers coming off early this morning during the heavy downpour, so if you try driving through an area of standing water and there's a manhole cover off, your tire could get stuck.

On Orange County evacuations:

"We have been doing some evacuations in Silverado Canyon, where we had a significant hillside with mud and debris coming down, and we are working with the Orange County Sheriff's Department to help get those folks that are in those affected areas of homes to a shelter at the Calvary Chapel in Silverado Canyon."

- Steve Julian

Updated at 8:10 a.m. | Permalink

Update from La Canada command center

Forecasters have been saying for a few days that today should be the brunt of the storm systems hitting Southern California. L.A. County Fire Captain Frank Garrido is at the command center in La Canada. He gives us an update on evacuation orders and conditions in the area.

What he's seeing so far this morning:

"The weather system this morning, we are surprised, has split the mountain ranges. It has gone further south and hit Orange County, than what was originally projected within the national weather system."

On the other half of the system:

It's gone to the high desert. "It's hitting the Santa Clarita Valley, going on up through Acton and Palmdale."

On evacuations due to denuded hillsides:

According to Garrido, officials issued 232 evacuation notices in La Canada-Flintridge and La Crescenta, asking residents to evacuate.

"Those residents were given the option through a waiver to shelter in place or evacuate, and several of those homes have selected to shelter in place."

On plans for if the storm system reverts back to the hillsides:

"We are looking at the second half of the storm coming into the La Canada-Flintridge area later on this morning. We do have crews on standby in case the hillside does give away. We have camp crews that are here working, filling sandbags, available to go and assist the residents within these communities in case any sandbag operations need to be put in place or the hillsides do give away."

- Steve Julian

Updated at 7:58 a.m. | Permalink

Heavy showers from LA down to Mexico border

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There's a lot more rain to come. National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Meier on what’s in store with this morning’s rain:

"We've got heavy showers over eastern L.A. County extending all the way down south to the Mexico border right now. We're expecting that to expand and intensify through the morning, with much of the morning commute being affected by the heavy rain.

On flash flood watches:

"We still have a flash flood watch in effect for all of Los Angeles County, not just the burn areas. That's due to the thunderstorm activity and the heavy rainfall expected."

On the most treacherous areas:

"In terms of thunderstorm threat, our coastal waters and our immediate coastal areas tend to be a magnet for thunderstorm and possible waterspout and small tornado activity. So along the coastline definitely looks to be an interesting spot this afternoon.

"In addition, all the foothill communities, including La Canada and La Crescente, will definitely have to stay on alert, as the heavy rains could produce some mudslides and debris flows. And then eastern Los Angeles County has been the focus of some heavy rain for quite a few hours now, so portions of the San Gabriel Valley should also stay on alert for just widespread flooding."

On when it will end:

"We're expecting the showers and thunderstorms to diminish late in the day, and by the time Thursday rolls around, we should just have nice, clear skies, or at least partly cloudy, for the rest of the week."

- Steve Julian

Earlier:

Rain-soaked California braces for biggest storm yet

Forecasters expected more rain across the state Wednesday, but the focus clearly was on Southern California where a monster storm was expected to bring torrential rain, thunderstorms, flooding, hail and possible tornadoes and water spouts. Forecasters warned of possible rainfall rates of 0.75 inch to 1 inch an hour and thunderstorm rates of 2 inches an hour in the region.

Steady rain began falling late Tuesday and was expected to intensify into early Wednesday.

"It's going to be a three-ring circus," said National Weather Service spokesman Bill Hoffer. "There's going to be a six-hour time frame in the early morning when it's really going to be dumping on us."

A rain-soaked hillside collapsed on part of a busy Interstate 10 transition road as overwhelmed drains left hubcap-deep pools of water on roadways littered with fender-bender crashes. The landslide covered three lanes of the transition to State Route 57 in the Pomona area, and the California Highway Patrol shut down part of the ramp before Wednesday morning's rush hour.

Officials on Tuesday ordered evacuation of 232 homes in La Canada Flintridge and La Crescenta, foothill suburbs of Los Angeles below steep hillsides that burned in 2009 and where mudslides inundated homes and backyards in February.

Walt Kalepsch said his backyard filled with mud and debris last winter, but he planned to stay the night with his wife and daughter.

"If it gets really terrible, we'll leave. But we've been evacuated so many times, it's like the city's crying wolf," he said. "During the rest of the year, it's absolutely gorgeous. It was just one big wildfire that changed everything."

As the "Pineapple Express" system swept Pacific Ocean moisture across Nevada, Arizona and Utah, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in six counties.

The huge and powerful low pressure system off the West Coast pushed precipitation right into the Great Basin.

"It takes a lot of energy to push that moisture over the mountains," said NWS meteorologist Dave Bruno. "This kind of storm could march right across the country and create a lot of bad weather along the way. It could affect the Southern Plains on Thursday and Friday. If it sticks together it'll hit Florida by Saturday."

With rain falling up and down the state, Sierra Nevada ski resorts boasted of record-breaking December snowfall, with the storms bringing a total of 10 1/2 to 15 1/2 feet to Mammoth Mountain.

Rescuers had to pluck some stranded motorists from rain-swollen creeks. Shoppers dodged puddles while buying last-minute Christmas gifts. Disney resorts canceled a plan to shower visitors with artificial snow.

In Orange County, four hikers missing overnight in a flooded canyon in the Cleveland National Forest were rescued Tuesday morning by helicopter after their car was trapped along swollen Trabuco Creek. Rescuers used a bulldozer to retrieve five other people who became stranded by the creek.

Downtown Los Angeles received more than a third of its annual average rainfall in less than a week.

Parts of the San Gabriel Mountains got more than 18 inches of rain since Friday, with coastal cities like Santa Monica and Long Beach getting more than 6 inches, the National Weather Service said.

Mudslides are a significant risk for three years after a fire and are especially likely anytime the rainfall rate reaches or exceeds 1 inch per hour, said Susan Cannon, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

That's a likely scenario Wednesday in the area burned by last year's Station Fire, which charred 250 square miles above the suburbs tucked below the San Gabriel Mountains.

"It means that once the heaviest rains start, it should be a very active time up there," Cannon said.

For all the perils of the torrential rains, there was a silver lining: The water is expected to help ease the effects of years of drought. Thursday is expected to be dry, with sunshine. There will be light rain on Christmas Day in parts of California.

Water content in the snow pack in California's mountains was at 197 percent of normal and 169 percent of the average measurement for April 1 - traditionally the date when the snow's water content is at its peak, said Ted Thomas, spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources.

As the snow melts, that water will run off into reservoirs that feed the state's extensive agriculture and city water systems.

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