32 hikers, campers rescued after California storm

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Mike Meadows/AP Photo

A man gets ready to jump off the hood of his car, stalled on flooded Vineland Ave between Vanowen and Sherman Way in the North Hollywood area of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley on March 20, 2011. The first day of spring arrived with a bang in Southern California, bringing heavy snow to the mountains and illuminating the sky with flashes of lightning from Santa Barbara to downtown Los Angeles.

A fierce spring storm that stranded hundreds of drivers along a major freeway, prompted the rescue of stranded hikers and closed roads into Yosemite National Park dwindled to showers Monday as a new wet weather system headed toward California.

Ventura County deputies worked through the night to rescue 32 hikers stranded in Los Padres National Forest when the storm swelled rivers and dumped snow in the remote area of Southern California.

Three people were treated for hypothermia, sheriff's Deputy Shane Matthews said.

Teresa Norris, who was leading a Sierra Club wilderness course, said she had planned to be out of the forest before the storm hit, but the bad weather arrived earlier than she expected.

"It was just like a blizzard where I was," said Norris, 56, who was camped at an elevation of 4,200 feet. "The wind was lifting me up, and I was trying to hold down my tent."

A separate group of nearly 100 teens and youngsters were stuck at a snowed-in mountain campground in another part of the park until crews managed to clear roads using snow plows.

A Kern County Fire Department bus loaded with blankets, ready-to-eat meals, water and sports drinks took the 10- to 17-year-olds to a meeting point at a gas station, department spokesman Sean Collins said.

"They might have been staying at the campground for the weekend, but when it was time for them to leave they couldn't get out," Collins said.

Farther south, four people were rescued from the roof of an SUV in Thousand Oaks when they tried to ford a rain-swollen flood control channel.

Meanwhile, roads into Yosemite National Park were temporarily Monday as a result of mudslides and downed trees and power lines. Park officials said power was out across Yosemite Valley and about 200 visitors were being evacuated.

Officials said the weekend storm dropped more than 3.5 feet of snow throughout the park.

Highways 41, 120 and 140 entering the park have been closed. Officials were unsure when those roads would reopen.

The nasty weather was moving out of the region and flood advisories were canceled for Los Angeles County,. However, the weather service warned debris flows and flash flooding were still possible in some areas.

Another, milder storm was expected to hit the state on Wednesday.

Earlier, snow and ice closed Interstate 5 for more than 12 hours beginning late Sunday, forcing travelers to spend the night at motels, gas stations or along the side of the main route linking Southern and Northern California until authorities began escorting traffic through the pass.

People tried the make the most of the challenging situation.

"I had 150 people. They were all over, man," said Jesse Khalid, who worked the overnight shift at a service station in Lebec, along the 4,100-footTejon Pass. "Most of them came in my store. They started drinking coffee, partying."

The section of Interstate 5 known as the Grapevine often closes during bad weather.

The storm hit first and hardest in Santa Barbara County, where a family of four, including a 6-month-old child and a dog, were rescued Sunday from a sailboat buffeted by wind and waves off East Beach.

During the rescue, a Harbor Patrol boat began taking on water and needed help from a second boat. In addition, a 70-foot tugboat broke free from its anchorage and struck the sailboat, authorities told the Santa Barbara News-Press.

The downpour dumped more than 10 inches of rain in Santa Barbara County.

Elsewhere in the state, the storm toppled trees onto cars and through windows, rainwater collapsed roofs and cars went skating into each other.

The Los Angeles Fire Department said it received 62 percent more 911 calls on Sunday than on average.

"We have debris flow, flooding, electrical wires down, trees that fell onto cars and structures in addition to increased traffic collisions," spokesman Erik Scott said.

However, hillsides stood up well in Southern California foothill communities considered at risk of mudslides because wildfires blackened the slopes last year.

The storm that greeted the first day of spring left several rain records. Downtown Los Angeles got nearly 2 1/2 inches, almost an inch more than the previous record for the day set in 1943, according to the National Weather Service.

Bob Hope Airport in Burbank got 3.85 inches, breaking the 1973 record of 1.15 inches for the day.

The San Fernando Valley had up to 7 inches in some areas.

As many as 30 people in Woodland Hills were evacuated overnight after mud and debris flowed over a retaining wall and threatened six homes. Most were allowed home early Monday although some found their backyards filled with brown goo.

Wet, windy weather in the San Francisco Bay area on Friday included a small tornado captured on video off Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Skiers enjoyed up to four feet of fresh powder at higher elevations in the Lake Tahoe region.

There was concern that continuing heavy rains might cause damage to fruit and nut trees and delay the planting of row crops such as tomatoes, garlic and cotton in the San Joaquin Valley.

"Rain is not abnormal this part of the year, but we typically have a storm followed by breezy, dry weather," Fresno County Farm Bureau director Ryan Jacobsen said. "When you have this much rain, the water sits there and makes it very conducive to growth of fungus."

Associated Press Writers John Rogers, Andrew Dalton, Marcus Wohlsen and Gosia Wozniacka contributed to this report.

© 2011 The Associated Press.

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