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California and the West

2 Dead, 3 Missing as Storm Triggers Flooding in Southland

Weather: Rising creek in San Bernardino National Forest claims two victims. Firefighters rescue 100 people in Azusa Canyon.

July 12, 1999|NICHOLAS RICCARDI and DIANA MARCUM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A freak summer storm swept across Southern California on Sunday, killing two people in a flood in San Bernardino National Forest, drenching desert washes and highways, and sparking brush fires and mudslides.

About 1 1/2 inches of rain flooded a creek in the Forest Falls area of the San Bernardino forest, swamping cabins and sparking several calls for help, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The flood claimed two lives, officials confirmed late Sunday, and firefighters were searching for three missing people. None were immediately identified.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for the Antelope Valley and San Gabriel Mountains on Sunday night. Most of Southern California remained dry yet steamy during the day. In Los Angeles, temperatures reached a high of 86 degrees with 90% humidity.

The weather--stormy over the mountains and high deserts but sunny, hot and humid elsewhere--is expected to linger for a couple more days due to moist air sweeping in from the Pacific, according to Guy Pearson of WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts to The Times.

"It's just your typical monsoon season," Pearson said.

The storms sent mud cascading onto the northbound lanes of the Golden State Freeway near Gorman, shutting down the roadway for about three hours. Mudslides also closed California 38 between Big Bear and Lake Jenks. A punishing downpour near Banning sent drivers inching off Interstate 10 because of poor visibility, leaving that part of the freeway empty, the California Highway Patrol reported. Flooding in Beaumont forced the closure of about a dozen streets.

"It's very bizarre weather out there," said Doug Showalter of the CHP's San Bernardino office. "It's dry here and five minutes away it's storming like crazy."

Lightning was blamed for two small fires along an isolated ridge in Griffith Park Sunday evening.

And a swift-moving brush fire blackened five acres of the Angeles National Forest near the Golden State Freeway and Templin Highway at 12:30 p.m. before it was extinguished by 95 county firefighters, aided by the U.S. Forest Service and three water-dropping helicopters.

A team of firefighters rescued about 100 hikers and picnickers stranded in Azusa Canyon, said Mark Whaling, a spokesman for the county Fire Department.

Rain in the upper portion of the canyon north of Los Angeles caused the level of a nearby river to rise two feet, making it difficult to cross.

"There were people covered with mud," Whaling said. "Some people got swept down a little bit."

The weather even rattled the Los Angeles Police Department, which issued a tactical alert Sunday night because the storm had apparently disrupted its communication equipment.

Officer Don Cox said the problems were limited to signals repeating because interference affected mountaintop transmitters. All signals were still getting through, he said.

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Staff writer Andrew Blankstein and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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