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Evacuations ordered as storm saturates California

By JOHN ROGERS,Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 12:07 p.m. HST, Dec 20, 2010



LOS ANGELES — A storm pounding California with record rain forced authorities in the San Joaquin Valley to order 2,000 residents to evacuate the farming community of McFarland due to major flooding.

An estimated 400 to 500 homes were in danger, Kern County Fire Department spokesman Sean Collins said.

A sheriff's helicopter crew was trying to locate the source of the flooding, which possibly was coming from ditches and canals that supply water to farms, Collins said. Two evacuation centers were set up.

"We cannot mandatorily evacuate anybody," Collins said. "If a person wants to stay, we cannot arrest them."

Stormy weather has gripped California since late last week, triggering mostly minor flooding, mudslides, road closures and power outages. Forecasters warned of worsening conditions Tuesday and Wednesday, as more storms bore down on the state and threatened to dump another 5 to 10 inches of rain.

Fresno TV station KFSN reported a 5-year-old boy was killed Sunday night when an SUV driven by his father went out of control during a downpour west of Temperance. The three surviving family members were taken to a hospital.

Virtually the entire state was affected by the bad weather, from coastal cities to the Central Valley, Sierra Nevada and southern deserts. On Sunday, rainfall records for the date fell, numerous traffic accidents snarled roads and trees tumbled.

Some locations in Southern California received more than 12 inches of rain, said meteorologist Jamie Meier of the National Weather Service. It was the most rainfall in one storm event since 2005, he said.

"That will make for a pretty good wallop, especially considering how dry things have been for the last two years," Meier said.

Flash-flood watches and warnings were in effect for some places, particularly mountain areas still scarred by wildfires.

Residents of La Canada Flintridge were among those keeping a wary eye on the rain after a 250-square-mile wildfire last year denuded towering slopes above communities along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

More than 40 homes in the hillside city just north of Los Angeles were damaged or destroyed by a mudslide in February.

"We've just had some sprinkling rains today. Occasionally it gets a littler harder but nothing to worry about," said Del Tucker, a retired geologist who has lived in the area since homes were built there in 1962.

In the Sierra, the Sugar Bowl ski resort received as much as 60 inches of snow at upper elevations.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. crews were working to restore power to the last of about 282,000 customers that lost electricity since the storm arrived. Southern California Edison had 13,000 customers still without power Monday.

Repair crews braced for predicted winds of up to 45 mph, along with heavy rain and snow in elevated areas.

"We're getting both rain and snow. The thing that we're seeing right now, we're starting to get reports of winds, and winds are what can cause more problems than the rain itself," Edison spokesman Steve Conroy said.

Elsewhere, a 20-mile stretch of scenic Pacific Coast Highway between Malibu and Oxnard was closed to commuters after a rock and mudslide Sunday night. The California Highway Patrol said no one was hurt. PCH also was closed for a time in Orange County by a mudslide at Dana Point.

In the inland region east of Los Angeles, a mudslide closed part of Interstate 215 in San Bernardino County. Areas of the county that burned recently were under close watch, but no evacuations had been ordered, said fire spokeswoman Tracey Martinez.

"We're doing preparation because the height of the rain for our county is going to be Tuesday and Wednesday," she said. "There's thousands and thousands of sand bags, and I don't know how many tons of sand we've placed everywhere."

Eastbound Highway 71 in eastern Los Angeles County was closed because of potholes and flooding, and a number of mountain roads were closed.

In Kern County, 10 people were evacuated Monday from three homes in Weldon due to flooding from a creek. In Monterey County, Three Peaks recorded 13.74 inches between Thursday evening and Sunday night.

Sunday's rainfall was particularly intense. Downtown Los Angeles got a record 2.8 inches, raising the season total to 6.08 inches, 3 inches above normal.

The storm took a toll on trees, including eucalyptus that fell on a home in the Woodland Hills area of Los Angeles, and a 40-foot tree that toppled onto an apartment building in suburban Glendale.

In the San Bernardino Mountains, a 100-foot tree fell between two businesses in downtown Big Bear but only damaged a gazebo.

"It couldn't have landed more perfectly if we'd planned it," said Tiffany Swantek, a spokeswoman for the local sheriff's station.

___

Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus in Santa Ana, Terence Chea in San Francisco, Garance Burke in Fresno and Sue Manning in Los Angeles contributed to this report.






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