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Driving Rain Blamed for 75 Crashes

Weather: The storm pushes moisture to record levels in Simi Valley, Camarillo and Ventura. More showers are possible, forecasters say.

May 06, 1998|CHRIS CHI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The season's seemingly endless storms continued to pelt Ventura County on Tuesday, pushing rainfall to record levels in three cities, triggering at least 75 crashes on county freeways and unleashing a 22,500-gallon sewage spill near Meiners Oaks.

More rain could fall today--and with the El Nino phenomenon continuing, forecasters say scattered storms may hit the county through June.

"They're going to be few and far between," said Wes Etheredge, a meteorologist with WeatherData Inc. "But I don't think we can count it out just yet.

"This has been an unusual season so far, and there's nothing telling us it's going back to normal."

Tuesday's storm, which arrived in an early morning torrent, dropped from 0.5 inch to 1.3 inches across the county, enough to make the record books in Simi Valley, Camarillo and Ventura.

Overall, 11 of 19 sites monitored by the county have reached record seasonal highs. Some of those records stretch back to 1941, a testament to the force of this year's storms.

The sewage spill occurred after Tuesday's downpour overloaded a pump near California 150 in the Meiners Oaks area. Work crews stopped the flow after it closed several beaches near the Ventura River.

The latest deluge also touched off several accidents on rain-soaked freeways, with Thousand Oaks and Oxnard among the areas most heavily hit. Between 6 a.m. and noon, the California Highway Patrol responded to 75 traffic accidents, more than 10 times the normal level.

In Oxnard, traffic was tied up after a CHP cruiser at an accident scene was hit from behind by an out-of-control car.

The problem began about 9 a.m., when H. Edwin Lyon of Ventura lost control of his car on the southbound Ventura Freeway, near Vineyard Avenue in Oxnard. His car flipped and ended up on the freeway's right shoulder.

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CHP Officer John Ybarra, 33, responded to the scene, helping Lyon, who was not injured, into his cruiser. While the two men discussed the accident, a car driven by Jonathan Hill, 49, of Ventura spun out of control and slammed into the back of the CHP cruiser.

Moments later, Mark Rein Miller of Calabasas flipped his Lexus near the scene of the two other accidents, the CHP reported. None of the men was injured, and CHP officials had not issued any citations.

In Thousand Oaks, there were several spin-outs and crashes on the Ventura Freeway. But no one was hurt, according to the CHP.

Meanwhile, Ventura officials Tuesday launched inspections of hillsides throughout the city that gave way during pounding storms earlier this year. Officials reported no cause for alarm, but said about 20 apartments on Cedar Street near Ventura Avenue are expected to remain vacant pending geological tests and the reinforcement of a protective wall. A mudslide earlier this year demolished a 12-unit Cedar Street apartment building and prompted the evacuation of several families in nearby buildings.

"If things dry out, they can get back in," said Bob Prodoehl, a city building official. "We're just going to watch it. We're having an unusually rainy season, that's for sure."

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Meanwhile, in Ojai, officials said the reconstruction of Santa Ana Road has been set back at least a week because of the rain. Completion is now expected by May 14.

Cloudy weather is expected again today, as a low-pressure trough continues to blanket the Central California coast. Forecasters predict up to 0.4 of an inch of rain today along the Ventura County coast. The average monthly rainfall in May for Ventura County is 0.25 of an inch; so far, rainfall in May has ranged from 0.77 of an inch in Oxnard to 1.81 inches in Simi Valley, according to the National Weather Service.

Rain is possible through Thursday, with dry weather expected to return on Friday.

"Any rainfall at all is rare" this time of year, said Etheredge, the meteorologist.

Correspondent Richard Warchol contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

County Rainfall Totals

Here are rainfall figures for the past year. Oct. 1 is the start of the official rain year. Also shown are the maximum rainfall amounts and the year in which they occurred. The El Nino condition in the Pacific Ocean has resulted in 11 records in the county this year, with several other locations within an inch of exceeding their all-time marks. The last El Nino, in 1983, produced four of the record rainfall amounts exceeded this year.

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