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Spring storm dumps snow in mountains, rain in Los Angeles


Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 4:45 p.m. HST, Mar 21, 2011

LOS ANGELES >> Spring roared into Southern California, bringing a storm more severe than the region saw for most of the winter. Snow, ice and rockslides forced the shutdown of major highways and thousands were without electricity, while concerns about flooding and mudslides forced dozens of evacuations.

Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles was shut down as wintry conditions through the mountains made passes too dangerous, said CHP spokeswoman Krystal Carter. The closure temporarily left drivers without the main route from Los Angeles to northern and central California.

The Grapevine, the main mountain pass between Los Angeles and Central California, remained closed Monday morning because of icy conditions but could reopen later in the morning after the ice melted.

"They're pretty much waiting for the sun to come up," said CHP dispatcher Theresa Francis.

CHP officers were busy removing cars and trucks that had crashed and were stuck on the road overnight, she said.

"There were a ton of them," Francis said.

Some drivers spent the night in their cars while others packed local motels.

Rock slides in Malibu also closed parts of the Pacific Coast Highway near Topanga Canyon Road, authorities said.

About 2½ inches of rain fell in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday and early Monday, with 5 to 7 inches recorded in the San Fernando Valley. Rock slides in Malibu also closed parts of the Pacific Coast Highway near Topanga Canyon Road, authorities said.

Sunday's storm was unusually strong for late March, said Stuart Seto of the weather service.

"Usually later in the year they kind of taper off," he said. "Old Man Winter, I guess, wanted to take one more bite out of us before leaving."

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

The storm hit first and hardest in Santa Barbara County, where more than 10 inches of rain fell in the Lake Cachuma area, forcing the release of water from Bradbury Dam, county spokesman David Flamm said.

The release was helping the lake level off, but heavy flow in the Santa Maria River brought the precautionary evacuation of 24 people in Guadalupe, Flamm said. They all returned home early Monday.

A family of four, including a 6-month-old child and a dog, were rescued from a sailboat buffeted by wind and churning waves off East Beach Sunday morning.

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

Ventura firefighters moved out 51 people from homeless encampments along the rising Ventura River, fire officials told KCAL-TV. Rain on a flooded street in Oxnard stranded several cars and swept away another, the National Weather Service said.

In the San Fernando Valley, where at least 3 inches of rain fell Sunday, mud and debris threatened a retaining wall and forced the evacuation of 30 people in Woodland Hills, said Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Diana Igawa.

Strong wind blew over trees that damaged homes and broke windows in the valley, downtown Los Angeles and throughout the region.

The rains, winds and downed trees combined to cripple power lines, cutting electricity to about 90,000 customers, officials with the utilities said. It wasn't immediately clear when power would be restored.

City News Service reported Monday that rain and debris caused the roof of a Big Lots story in Granada Hills to collapse, but no one was injured.

Thousands of runners in the Los Angeles Marathon faced pouring rain and lightning strikes, one of which illuminated the downtown skyline just as the race started. It didn't seem to bother them, as Markos Geneti finished first among men with a record time of 2 hours, 6 minutes, 35 seconds.

Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics had treated about 100 runners — most for hypothermia — by mid-afternoon, Igawa said. Sixty people were taken to hospitals, including one who suffered a broken arm.

Flood warnings also were issued for Los Angeles-area hillside communities burned by wildfires in recent years. But in the foothill community of La Canada Flintridge, where more than 40 homes were destroyed by a mudslide last year, resident Lien Yang said the streets were clear of mud and debris.

"I think we'll be OK this year," he said. "This looks like it's the last significant storm of the year."


Associated Press Writer John Rogers contributed to this report.


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