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Heavy Rains Set Off Mudslides, Floods as Storm Pounds State


Heavy rain and winds walloped the entire California coast on Friday as a powerful Pacific storm worked its way south, causing at least one death, driving floodwaters into homes and businesses, closing roads, causing massive power outages and drenching an already soggy state.

In Northern California, nervous residents warily watched the Russian and Napa rivers, which crested above flood levels in the early morning hours and receded in early afternoon. But rain continued to pelt the region, threatening new flooding and leaving more than 100,000 homes and businesses in several counties without power.

"It feels the same as '86. I'm having post-traumatic flood disorder," lamented a somber Patti Jackson as she surveyed the turbulent Napa River and recalled the last time flooding had been so bad.

For most of the day, Southern California escaped the heavy soaking that was forecast to batter the region, but by nightfall thunderstorms and winds slashed across the area.

About 8:30 p.m., a clap of thunder shook buildings in the Downtown area and set off several car alarms. A 17-year-old Carpinteria girl was briefly hospitalized after lightning struck precariously close to a group of high school track athletes practicing in a downpour about 4 p.m.

Storm damage led to closure of several key highways in the region.

Major mudslides prompted authorities to close Pacific Coast Highway from Topanga Canyon Boulevard to Carbon Canyon Road. The northbound side of the coast road already was blocked south of the McClure Tunnel.

U.S. 101 northbound was shut down near Manchester Canyon in Santa Barbara County, and also at Bates Road and California 33 in Ventura County. Interstate 5 was flooded and closed near the intersection of California 99 just north of the Grapevine. Interstate 5 also was closed in dozens of other places along a 200-mile stretch through the Central Valley.

On the rain-slickened freeway, which is California's major north-south route, an 18-wheeler hit several cars, killing one motorist, the California Highway Patrol said.

Rain was expected to continue through today, heavy at times and with a chance of more thunderstorms, before tapering off Sunday.

Storm-related damage to the California Aqueduct in the Central Valley will shut off the flow of water to Southern California for several days, officials said. The aqueduct, which brings water south from the Sacramento River delta, sprung a leak near Pearblossom and suffered other damage just south of Fresno that is expected to take several days to repair. Metropolitan Water District officials said that reservoirs south of the leaks have sufficient water to serve customers until the aqueduct is fixed.

In Ventura County, another portion of the La Conchita landslide gave way, sending a river of mud, rocks and water down the hill and forcing authorities to evacuate at least 10 of the residents remaining in the beachside community that suffered a 600,000-ton landslide that crushed nine dwellings one week ago.

Geologists have declared the hillside that looms over the community extremely unstable, with smaller chutes of dirt ready to go any time. And officials have asked the entire community to evacuate, declaring 140 homes too hazardous for residents to stay overnight.

Heeding that advice, most residents had skipped town by Friday, leaving behind a mud-caked neighborhood overrun with disaster workers and media crews from throughout the state and overseas.

Up north, rescue workers in helicopters lifted out dozens of people trapped by floodwaters in Monterey County, and several hundred people evacuated their homes in the Carmel Valley after water jumped two dams and turned the Carmel River into a raging, debris-strewn torrent.

Santa Cruz County also took a beating as mudslides forced authorities to shut down California 17, the main artery connecting the county to San Jose. Some evening commutes stretched to nearly three hours as drivers had to take alternate routes home. The San Lorenzo River was reported at its highest levels since a series of destructive floods in the early 1980s.

In San Jose, the Guadalupe River overflowed its banks and flooded the downtown area, shutting down the city's light-rail system and forcing cancellation of Friday night's hockey game between the San Jose Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings.

In the Sierra Nevada, Mammoth Mountain received six feet of snow, and officials said they expect an additional three feet before the storm is over. Despite conditions described by ski-area personnel as "epic," few were able to enjoy it Friday as officials shut down lifts because of the danger of lightning. Many other ski areas were closed because of high winds.

"It's a pretty potent storm and there could be heavy rainfall and several inches of rain over the mountains, from the San Gabriels northward," said Curtis Brack of WeatherData Inc. Winds up to 60 m.p.h. were predicted overnight Friday for the San Bernardino and Tehachapi mountains.

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