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Heavy LA rainstorm prompts worries of mudslides

By JOHN ROGERS,Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 1:46 p.m. HST, Dec 19, 2010

LOS ANGELES — A wet pre-winter storm dumped as much as 7 inches of rain on parts of Southern California over the weekend, with several more inches expected to fall in the days leading up to Christmas.

Rainfall that began Saturday morning continued relentlessly throughout the day Sunday. It wasn't expected to let up until sometime Monday, then resume again on Tuesday and Wednesday, said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service. After a brief break at the end of the week, more rain was likely to arrive on Christmas Day, Seto said.

A flash-flood warning was in effect for parts of Southern California, particularly mountain areas burned in recent years by wildfires.

The rain was believed responsible for scores of accidents, including one in the city of Industry, east of Los Angeles, that critically injured a 6-year-old girl.

Some residents of La Canada Flintridge were keeping a wary eye on the rain. More than 40 homes in the hillside city just north of Los Angeles were damaged or destroyed by a mudslide in February.

"We are holding up," said Lien Yang, who measures rainfall totals in his backyard and reported about 3 inches had fallen by noon Sunday. "It's coming down steady but not pouring. Therefore it doesn't cause a mud flow or flooding or anything like that. Hopefully it's winding down and we'll have no threat this time."

In Northern California, the San Francisco Bay area caught only a portion of a powerful storm system, the National Weather Service said, although the weather was blamed for a series of scattered power outages in area.

Moderate to heavy rainfall fell on San Francisco early Sunday, but by late morning most of the precipitation had moved east.

A spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric said about 3,300 homes and businesses in the San Jose and Gilroy area were without power early Sunday afternoon.

Despite light weekend traffic, the rain triggered scores of fender-bender accidents throughout the Los Angeles area, according to the California Highway Patrol, including more than 40 Sunday morning. In Industry, rain was suspected as the cause of an accident in which a car carrying four members of a family hit a tree. A 6-year-old girl was hospitalized in critical condition and her father, mother and 15-month-old sister suffered lesser injuries, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

The real impact of the storm could come later in the week, Seto said, when hillsides are saturated with rain and the possibility of mudslides and flash floods seriously increases.

Rainfall throughout the region ranged from 2 to 4 inches in the Los Angeles area, including downtown, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, to as much as 7 inches in some mountain areas. As many as 3 more inches could fall before the storm departs on Monday, Seto said. The one that follows it on Tuesday could be even stronger, he said.

Soaked hillsides gave way to some minor mudslides in canyon areas and flooding in a few low-lying streets, but nothing serious, Seto said.

The system hit the state after a large storm front moving out of the Gulf of Alaska met with warm, moist air coming across the Pacific Ocean. The result was heavy rain and hardly any snow, even at higher elevations.

No one had been asked to evacuate any areas, but Yang said he and his neighbors had been warned to be prepared just in case. A neighbor spent part of the afternoon putting sandbags in front of his house.

Yang's home escaped damage in February but his next-door neighbor had to dig 24 feet of mud out of his backyard and a house just around the block was destroyed. Most of the homes have been rebuilt or repaired since then.

Meanwhile, county flood control workers have kept the neighborhood's streets lined with barricades designed to direct mud flows away from homes. Residents recently added a holiday touch, festooning the barricades with Christmas lights.


Associated Press Writer John S. Marshall in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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