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Storms Crackle Across Sky; 2 Lost in Desert Flood


Warm, tropical moisture pumped out of the Gulf of Mexico flooded Southern California again on Tuesday, spawning scattered thunderstorms, thousands of lightning strikes in the mountains and deadly flash floods in the deserts.

Search teams scoured a seven-mile stretch of the Mojave River near Victorville, where two men apparently were swept away Monday evening when a torrential downpour hit the area, sending a 10-foot wall of water roaring down a river that normally has but a trickle.

"Witnesses saw them on a vehicle in the river bottom," Victorville police spokeswoman Denise Garland said Tuesday. "They were yelling for help, then they were apparently swept into the water."

The missing men were not identified. Garland said they may have been transients living in an abandoned car in the river bottom. The search was suspended Tuesday afternoon when another thunderstorm struck the high desert area.

In nearby Apple Valley, the Fire Department reported that up to 30 people were rescued from their cars Monday evening when they were stranded on flooded streets, and some residents fled their flooded homes.

More thunderstorms were reported Tuesday evening, but the major activity was centered in the mountain and desert areas, well outside the Los Angeles Basin.

Meteorologist Steve Burback of WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times, predicted that the hot, humid weather pattern that has settled over Southern California since the weekend will continue into Thursday.

"We can expect more rain, lightning and winds Wednesday night," he said. 'It appears there will be a greater chance of heavy rain from these thunderstorms at higher elevations and possibly in the deserts.

"The situation appears to be unusual. There's been a lot more moisture and heating to set up this situation."

Strong winds that kicked up a blinding dust storm contributed to half a dozen collisions Tuesday on the Antelope Valley Freeway, including a 12-car pileup that left six motorists injured and backed up traffic for miles, the California Highway Patrol reported.

"Visibility was down to zero" as the dust storm covered the whole Palmdale area, CHP Officer Vince Zambrana said.

The 12-car pileup occurred at 4:40 p.m. in the northbound lanes near Avenue N north of Palmdale. All lanes were closed for an hour and 15 minutes, Zambrana said. Four motorists were treated at the scene for injuries and two more were hospitalized, said Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Neal Wagerly.

Five other collisions were reported about the same time, all apparently caused by the sand storm, the county Fire Department said.

Lightning continued to crackle hundreds of times Tuesday as mostly dry thunderstorms roamed the state, particularly the southern third. Sensors of the California Department of Forestry recorded 5,076 strikes on Monday.

Also on Monday, 40 lightning hits were recorded within half an hour in northern Los Angeles County and Kern County, the National Weather Service said.

In downtown Los Angeles, huge bolts lit up the sky Monday night, followed by a heavy downpour so brief it amounted only to a trace of precipitation in rain gauges. Other rainfall Monday night ranged from .71 of an inch in Northridge to .06 of an inch in Santa Monica and Woodland Hills to .02 in Culver City and at Los Angeles International Airport.

The lighting caused more than 100 fires in eight national forests throughout the state.

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