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Mud Flows Feared as Storms Hit Calif. for 5th Day

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Jan. 23, 2010












‘It’s not safe to say that we’re out of the clear just yet,’ official says

Photo: Waves pound a wall near buildings in Pacifica during a rain storm. (Paul Sakuma / AP)

January 22, 2010


LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. - Volatile conditions behind a series of storms that flooded streets and left a trail of damage in southern California have unleashed hail, lightning and thunder as authorities continued to warn of huge mud flows in foothill communities.

Photo: Crews work to fix power poles knocked down in Sacramento County on Wednesday. (Hector Amezcua / Zuma Press)

With predictions for more showers Friday, the supersaturated ground threatened to send damaging debris downhill. Authorities said an extensive flood-control system was working, but many of the basins designed to catch debris-laden runoff from fire-scarred mountains were full and evacuations remained necessary.

Officials are still pressing residents of endangered homes to obey evacuation orders.

"It's not safe to say that we're out of the clear just yet," Gail Farber, the Los Angeles County Public Works director.

In Arizona, flash flooding was reported in Black Canyon City and officials issued evacuation orders Friday for communities along the Agua Fria River and Black Canyon Creek.

Justin Ross whooped and hollered while he dug his shovel furiously into the 3-foot deep mud that was quickly rising beside his parents' house in the La Canada Flintridge foothills north of downtown Los Angeles.


Ross, 23, stopped only to dip his fingers in the muck and wiped a streak across each cheek, as water the color of chocolate milk poured down the steep slope.

Photo: A resident walks down a flooded street in Long Beach, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan. 19.Waves pound a wall near buildings in Pacifica during a rain storm. (Scott Smeltzer / AP)

"I put on the war paint and started screaming a sort of war whoop. It was a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration," he said during a break between squalls Thursday afternoon. "I feel like I've been shoveling for four days straight because I have."

The siege of Pacific storms has led to several deaths statewide, flooded urban areas and turned the region's often-dry river and creek channels into raging torrents.

A young man was pulled from a rushing river in Orange County Thursday, but rescuers couldn't confirm his report that a companion got swept away following a fruitless search.

Travel snarls mounted Thursday as major highways were closed by snow and tornado damage, and strong winds grounded flights at several airports. Another tornado left a trail of damage in a community northwest of Los Angeles.

A motorist was rescued after a tornado knocked power lines onto a highway in the state's remote southeast corner, trapping the man inside his vehicle.

Major highways were closed by snow and tornado damage, and strong winds grounded flights at several airports.

A small tornado struck two neighborhoods in Ventura, toppling trees, damaging cars and tearing apart a shed in two neighborhoods.

Acting Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco and Siskiyou counties because of the statewide storm impacts.

Photo: Megan Forni looks at a giant tree that fell on her house splitting it in half in Fair Oaks. She was trapped in a room under the tree until firefighters helped free her. Forni and other family members in the house were unhurt. (Steve Yeater / AP)

By late afternoon Thursday, the storm had added as much as 3.2 inches of rain to the 5 to 6 inches that fell earlier in the week across the mountains of Los Angeles County. Unstable conditions after the storm brought hail, thunder and lightning throughout the night.

The basins are located on streams and other water courses emerging from the mountains to intercept surges of mud, boulders and other debris while allowing water to flow into open channels and underground storm drains that empty into the ocean.

The major area of concern has been foothill communities along the perimeter of the San Gabriel Mountains, where a summer wildfire scorched 250 square miles and burned right up to the backyards of homes that abut the steep slopes.

Since the beginning of the week, officials ordered more than 1,200 homes evacuated.

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.