LA Rain: Storm eases as residents begin to clean up and dry out

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A thunderstorm that brought sorely-needed rain to drought-plagued Southern California is winding down after sending mudslides down foothill communities, flooding roadways and opening up sinkholes.

Evacuation orders were lifted Sunday morning for 1,200 homes in the San Gabriel Valley foothill communities of Glendora and Monrovia, where recent wildfires have burned away vegetation and bursts of rain caused occasional debris flows.

National Weather Service Meteorologist David Sweet told KPCC Sunday morning that the storm isn't quite over. "There still will be some showers today," he said, "but nothing like what we've seen over the past couple days."

The evacuation order remained in place for 10 homes in Azusa where a mudslide caused damage to several residences. At one home there, mud buried the backyard, swallowing a metal retaining fence and reaching up to the rim of a 10-foot high basketball hoop.

Azusa Police Department Corporal Jerry Jarrett said  officials want to make sure the hillsides are stable before allowing residents to return home.

"The retaining walls have held, but the mud flow has gotten to the very top of those retaining walls," Jarrett said. "And with each new rainfall, the mud increases and then goes over the walls into the rear yards of these houses that butt up again the hillside."

Azusa police told KPCC that some residents were being allowed back home on foot only. Officials were assessing the area. 

​Forecasters predicted only showers in California on Sunday as the storm heads east — a lucky break for the evening's Oscar red carpet festivities in Hollywood.

The storm marked a sharp departure from many months of drought that has grown to crisis proportions for the state's vast farming industry. However, such storms would have to be much more frequent to make major headway against the drought, weather forecasters say.

Downtown Los Angeles tallied 4.34 inches from the second storm by 5 p.m. Saturday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Sirard. That raised the rainfall total to 5.54 inches since July 1, still 6.19 inches below normal.

In the Hollywood hills, a mudslide blocked the entrance to several homes and took down a tree that knocked down a power pole, leaving homes in the neighborhood without power. Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials were working to restore power in the neighborhood Sunday morning.

Southern California Edison spokeswoman Caroline Aoyagi says there are 5,284 customers without power Sunday morning. The majority of them are in Orange County, around Seal Beach, because of a planned outage. She couldn't say how many were because of storm.

L.A.'s Department of Water and Power reported only about 200 customers without power Sunday morning.

In Malibu, storm-driven waves covered much of the mile-long Zuma Beach with sand and kelp after water surged through a parking lot seawall.

Four hikers were rescued overnight after they became trapped by rising floodwaters in Malibu Creek State Park. Los Angeles County sheriff's Capt. Mike Parker said Sunday that the hikers were rescued around 3 a.m. and flown out by helicopter.

The hikers were uninjured but cold and exhausted. They had become trapped between a high wall and rising floodwaters at Malibu Creek in a remote area of the park. One of the hikers called for help around 6:30 p.m. as it was getting dark and their cellphones were dying.

Other trouble spots included about 13 homes that were evacuated Friday night in the Lake Hughes area in northern Los Angeles County after a mudslide closed a major road. To the east in San Bernardino County, a levee failed and put eight houses in danger of serious flooding, but county fire crews were working to protect them and no evacuations were ordered.

For local ski areas suffering through another dry winter, this storm has brought them good news.

Snow levels in the local mountains were expected to drop to the 5,500-foot level overnight, National Weather Service weather specialist Bonnie Bartling said. And between 6 and 18 inches of snow were expected up to 8,000 feet with accumulations of 1 to 4 feet possible above that level, forecasters said.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works reported that it had captured 26 million gallons of storm water at Eaton Wash Dam for the local water supply — good news for the drought-ravaged Southland.

Numerous traffic accidents occurred on slick or flooded roads across California, including one about 60 miles east of Los Angeles involving a big rig whose driver died after falling from a freeway overpass. 

Utilities repaired numerous scattered power outages. The storm also created problems from the sea.

Heavy surf in the Long Beach area caused mild to moderate damage to 20 homes on Ocean Boulevard, though no evacuations were required, the fire department said.

In Santa Barbara County, strong waves sent water crashing into a beachside restaurant in Goleta and three boats onto the sand and a pier, county fire Capt. Martin Johnson said. The restaurant's manager told KEYT-TV that one of his employees was swept out into the ocean and underneath the pier, where he was able to get out of the water. Another employee was pushed back inside the restaurant by a rogue wave but was not seriously hurt.

A fierce wave also broke the windows of a restaurant on the Santa Barbara pier.

At the north end of Monterey Bay, strong waves apparently broke through the foundation of a seaside home, creating a blowhole on the driveway and shooting water over the roof. Also, a stretch of the oceanfront drive in Santa Cruz was shut down Saturday after a large sinkhole appeared in a cliff, opening the roof of a cave where homeless people have lived. Authorities said public works was investigating.

The storm was the much more powerful second act of two systems that hit California during the week.

Downtown San Francisco received 8.01 inches of rain by Saturday evening, bringing the city to 44 percent of its normal rainfall but avoiding the city's driest-ever "rain year" record by roughly half an inch, NWS meteorologist Matt Mehle said. The driest year was in 1851, with just 7.42 inches. The rain year begins July 1.

"All this rain has been really helpful but we are still behind the curve in terms of the drought," Mehle said.

The National Weather Service said the storm is forecast to move east over the Rockies and into the Plains and Mississippi Valley through Sunday, bringing a hodgepodge of precipitation. Colorado's ski resorts could see up to 6 inches of fresh snow. A mixture of sleet and snow in Kansas, Missouri and Illinois will eventually change over to all snow - with up to 8 inches forecast for Kansas City and the St. Louis area - while northern Arkansas will see freezing rain. The system also has its sights set on the Appalachians and the East Coast into Monday.

The storm's eastward move on Saturday finally broke a 70-day streak without precipitation in the Phoenix area. An 85-day spell of no measurable rainfall in Las Vegas ended Friday. Rain and snow also finally came to drought-stricken New Mexico. In Denver, a highway pileup involving more than 100 vehicles killed one person and injured 30 others as heavy snow fell Saturday, authorities said.

This story has been updated.

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