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Winter's Parting Shot : Weather: Final storms of the season bring flooding, accidents, power outages and hailstones. Three are killed on slick roads during the weekend.

March 20, 1994|JOHN HURST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The last storms of winter swept through Los Angeles on Saturday with fast and furious downpours that caused traffic accidents, flooding and power outages.

At least three people were killed in traffic accidents on rain-slick streets since late Friday, and emergency officials rushed to respond to nearly nonstop reports of vehicle crashes.

The fast-moving series of thunder and lightning storms rumbled in off the Pacific Ocean and gained intensity inland, where they closed highways, flooded streets and houses, interrupted electrical service to thousands of homes and briefly knocked out the power in the Los Angeles County Fire Department dispatch center, filling the facility with smoke.

"There was a flash and a boom" as the power and lights went off, Battalion Chief Gene Wolfe said.

He said firefighters at first were worried that a lightning strike had crippled the facility's computer dispatching system.

"It just scared the living poo out of us," Wolfe said. However, fire officials were able to quickly restore the facility's power except for one bank of lights, he said.

More than 40 calls poured into the dispatch center from Eastside residents asking for aid in dealing with flooded streets and homes.

A stretch of the Santa Ana Freeway was under five feet of water on the Eastside and it was closed to traffic at Atlantic Boulevard.

Firefighters responded to a steady stream of auto accidents caused by the storms.

"Traffic accident after traffic accident all day long," Wolfe said. "It's been a pretty busy day."

A man was killed and two people were injured in a car that went out of control and sheared off a power pole in Palmdale about 1 p.m., according to the California Highway Patrol.

Accidents on slick streets also claimed two lives Friday night. One man was killed when he lost control of his car on the Foothill Freeway near Glendora and was broadsided by a van. In another accident, a passenger was killed when a car went out of control and hit a tree on Vallecito Drive in Santa Fe Springs.

The National Weather Service issued flash-flood and mudslide warnings for Southern California hillside areas that were burned last fall, but by nightfall the warnings were canceled for the Green Meadow, Old Topanga and Laguna regions. By 9 p.m. the warnings were also canceled for the Kinneloa and Banning areas.

Weather officials reported that the storms dropped varying quantities of rain over a widespread area. By evening, 1.51 inches of rain had fallen in Monrovia, while 0.57 of an inch was reported in Woodland Hills.

The downpours were sometimes intense. In the Civic Center, 0.74 of an inch of rain fell within about 20 minutes during the afternoon, according to weather officials.

About 2,400 homes in the San Fernando Valley suffered temporary losses of electrical power, according to Debra Sass, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Brief but dramatic hailstorms were reported on the Eastside and in Monterey Park.

"I saw hailstones the size of big jawbreakers just pelting down," said sheriff's Sgt. Ron Spear, who was working in the department's headquarters in Monterey Park. "I'm glad my car was parked under an awning."

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