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Nora Leaves Rain, Flooding in Its Wake

September 26, 1997|ERIC MALNIC and TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Still-powerful remnants of former Hurricane Nora invaded Southern California from Mexico Thursday, triggering floods, knocking out electrical power, snarling traffic and generating tide-boosted waves that swamped several homes in Seal Beach.

Nora, downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved inland, still packed quite a punch, dumping as much as two inches of rain in the low-lying Imperial Valley and up to four inches in the mountains of San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Rainfall was generally lighter, but still substantial, in Los Angeles and Orange counties, where the circulating fringes of the cyclonic tropical storm dropped generally gentle but persistent showers throughout the area.

In the San Fernando Valley region, there was scattered flooding and three accidents involving big trucks that slowed traffic for hours on the Golden State and Antelope Valley freeways.

Light sprinkles began falling on Los Angeles shortly before dawn Thursday, ending a dry spell that had lasted a record-shattering 219 days. The 0.45 of an inch of rain that had fallen on the Civic Center by nightfall was the first measurable precipitation since Feb. 17, when 0.02 of an inch fell downtown. The old record--197 days--was set between April 12 and Oct. 27 in 1927.

Nora's diminishing strength spared Southern California the sort of widespread devastation that the storm had wreaked on Mexico's Baja California while still a hurricane.

The worst problems in the Los Angeles area apparently occurred in the Orange County community of Seal Beach, on the outer fringes of the storm.

Orange County officials said high tides boosted waves generated by Nora and a storm far to the north, sending breakers 20 feet tall crashing into beachfront homes in low-lying areas of the city.

Three houses were seriously damaged and 45 others received minor damage as water gushed through garages and patios.

Dave West, who lives on 12th Street, bolted out of bed at 4 a.m., thinking, at first, that an earthquake had occurred.

"I heard a rush of water and felt a pounding," West said. "I looked outside and the water was streaming across the street. . . . By 6 a.m. I had two feet of water in the hallway," West said.

Sleepy residents and barefoot surfers scrambled to fill and stack sandbags, while bulldozers hastily constructed a sand berm that stretched for six blocks in front of the flooded area. Workers ferried sandbags by kayak to nervous residents.

The long dry spell had allowed grease and oil residues to build up on Southern California's streets and freeways, and Nora's sprinkles turned the roadways into tropical skating rinks during the morning rush hour.

The California Highway Patrol said there were about 230 traffic accidents on Los Angeles-area freeways between 4 and 10 a.m. The rush-hour crush lasted almost until noon as commuters struggled to get around jackknifed trucks and multi-car pileups.

In the northern part of the county, the first of three accidents involving semitrailer trucks occurred about 7 a.m. in the southbound lanes of the Golden State Freeway near the Antelope Valley Freeway junction.

One of the trucks lost control in a tunnel and careened off both walls, said Doug Sweeney of the CHP. A car and a van behind the truck tried to avoid it and also lost control, bouncing off the sides of the tunnel before coming to a halt. Each was then rear-ended by other large trucks.

One person suffered minor injuries, and the lanes were closed until noon, Sweeney said.

As those lanes were opening, however, another truck lost control in the northbound truck lanes of the freeway, spilling 300 gallons of diesel fuel, Sweeney said. The truck lanes were expected to be closed until 8 p.m. as Caltrans crews cleaned up the spill.

In a third accident, the southbound over-crossing at the Antelope Valley Freeway and Angeles Forest Highway was shut down for about an hour after a truck there slid out of control, landing on its side.

No injuries were reported.

The Los Angeles Fire Department dispatched rescue crews just before 9 a.m. after it was reported that a person--possibly a child--was floating down a wash near Kittridge Street and Wilbur Avenue. It turned out to be a false alarm, but department spokesman Jim Wells seized on the report as an opportunity to warn parents to keep their children away from flood control channels.

"Parents should remind their children now to stay away from running water," Wells said. "It's not a playground."

Residents of Yuma, where the storm entered the United States, had prepared for the worst, piling up more than 75,000 sandbags to divert what many had predicted would be a devastating flood. School was canceled, city employees were put on emergency alert, and residents in 240 homes in the farm community of Somerton, near the Mexican border, were evacuated to a Red Cross shelter.

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