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Outages, Hazards Tied to Storm

Weather: Record-setting downpour leads to SigAlerts, traffic accidents, mudslides, short circuits and a collapsed roof.

October 31, 1996|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN and MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The first significant rainfall of the season pelted Southern California with as much as 6 1/2 inches of cold rain Wednesday, causing power outages, spawning small mudslides, making life miserable for commuters and forcing apartment residents to flee for cover after a makeshift roof collapsed.

In the San Fernando Valley, just over 2 inches of rain fell. In Malibu, which only last week contended with a major brush fire, nearly 2 1/2 inches was reported by the end of the day, said forecasters at WeatherData Inc., which supplies weather information to The Times.

The rain triggered minor mudslides in the Malibu-Calabasas burn areas, the biggest of which closed Malibu Canyon Road from Mulholland Highway to the Malibu city line Wednesday.

Slick roads contributed to at least eight major SigAlerts on Valley freeways, keeping officers busy throughout the morning, the California Highway Patrol said.

Seventy-one accidents were reported on Valley-area streets and roads and about 170 were reported throughout the region--three times the normal number--including a head-on collision between a school bus and a car on Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

No children were on the bus at the time and no injuries were reported, the CHP said.

In the East Valley, meanwhile, police temporarily closed a damaged four-lane bridge across the Los Angeles River on Wednesday morning at Coldwater Canyon Avenue, forcing drivers to seek alternate routes in the thick of the morning rush hour.

A skip-loader left in the previously dry, concrete-lined riverbed by county workers was apparently picked up by rushing water and rammed against the bridge, according to Chuck Ellis, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Public Works.

*

By Wednesday afternoon, two northbound lanes and one southbound lane of the bridge were reopened.

Powerful winds gusted through the streets of Norwalk, shattering windows, toppling a sign and tearing up some roofing, but damage generally was minor and no injuries were reported.

Caltrans and county public works crews labored to clear rocks and other debris that had fallen overnight on canyon roads.

L.A. County officials, meanwhile, were trying to reopen Malibu Canyon Road in time for the evening rush hour Wednesday, but a county spokeswoman said the closure would be extended into today--and possibly longer--if the rains continued.

County firefighters at Station 70 along the Pacific Coast Highway made sandbags available for those in Malibu who needed to protect their homes from flooding. But residents reported no major problems, according to the Los Angeles County sheriff's station at Lost Hills-Malibu.

Rick Morgan, Malibu's city engineer, fretted that another storm could send rocks tumbling down the hillside.

"If you drive that canyon, you can see with all that brush gone," Morgan said. "Loose boulders are poised everywhere."

Though the rain caused some concern, many residents welcomed the sudden shift in climate.

"I'm glad the rains are here," said Roxane Seidner as she watched the drizzle from her Latigo Canyon home. "It will start the rebirth process. The fires, the rain--they're part of the natural cycle. If it lets up for a week, it will give the grass a chance to grow and give the critters something to nibble on again."

In Boyle Heights, 75 to 100 residents of the Pico-Aliso public housing project were evacuated from their apartments early Wednesday when a tarpaulin collapsed and rainwater seeped into 12 of the units, flooding downstairs living quarters and leaving some units ankle-deep in water.

Officials with the city housing authority said the units are in a building at 1401 E. 1st St. that was undergoing roof repairs. Workers, aware of the approaching storm, covered the repairs with a heavy tarp, but the weight of the accumulating precipitation proved to be too much.

"The tarp just gave way," said Don Smith, the housing authority's executive director, who ordered the evacuation. Officials estimated the worth of the damage at between $20,000 and $40,000. No injuries were reported.

Rising waters in streams and reservoirs put county firefighters assigned to swift water rescue units on alert Wednesday. But no trouble was reported.

Power was cut to 24,000 Valley customers in scattered outages, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported, blaming the interruptions on wet tree branches and a five-month buildup of dust in transformers and on insulators, which caused short circuits when wet. In most cases, electrical service was restored within a few hours.

Schools did not escape. Teachers, administrators and maintenance employees at Granada Hills High School worked for hours Wednesday morning trying to mop up flooded classrooms and offices.

"We just can't keep up with the water," Principal Kathleen Rattay said of the leaks that plagued more than half a dozen classes and offices.

Students were evacuated from six classrooms as water drizzled from the ceilings and rain leaked through the windowsills, Rattay said. Several classes were held in the school's library or other vacant rooms.

*

The heaviest rain from the storm was reported at Gibraltar Dam, in a mountain canyon above Santa Barbara, where more than 6 1/2 inches had accumulated by noon Wednesday. The rainfall at the Los Angeles Civic Center broke the record for the date--.48 of an inch in 1992--and the downtown high temperature of 60 was the coldest maximum reading ever recorded for the date.

The storm had largely moved out of the area by nightfall Wednesday and forecasters said skies should be mostly clear today and Friday, with high temperatures in the upper 60s. But there is a chance of showers again this weekend, they added.

Times staff writers Eric Malnic, George Ramos and Lucille Renwick and correspondent Yvonne Milosevic contributed to this story.

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