A powerful Alaskan storm pummeled Southern California with destructive winds, hail, drenching rain and snow up to 6 feet deep Tuesday, downing trees and power lines, flooding low-lying areas and bringing traffic to a standstill.
Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach was blocked by flooding, and runoff from as much as 7 inches of rain in the foothills flooded dozens of intersections in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys. Scores of crashes on wet pavement turned the morning commute into a nightmare.
Thousands of homes and businesses were without power for up to six hours as winds gusting at up to 75 mph felled trees and power lines throughout Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties. Inoperative traffic signals contributed to traffic tie-ups that lasted most of the day.
About 200 vehicles were stranded overnight on Interstate 5 in the Tehachapi Mountains as plows struggled unsuccessfully to keep ahead of snow that sometimes topped 6 inches an hour. The snow forced the closure of I-5, the state's principal north-south highway, at about 10 p.m. Monday, and officials said the route probably won't reopen until today.
Four elderly people trapped by snow for several days in their cabin above Mt. Wilson were rescued by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department helicopter Tuesday afternoon. Earlier, work crews used snowplows to clear a road to Mile High Camp, behind Mt. Wilson, where 180 high school students from Long Beach were marooned by the snow.
About 40 boats at a marina in San Pedro were ripped free of their moorings by the winds, which severely battered two docks. Several of the boats had major damage, and about 20 people who live aboard them had to seek shelter elsewhere. The persistent winter storm that rumbled in Sunday, a startling contrast to temperatures in the 80s less than 10 days ago, is expected to finally taper off today.
Skies should be partly clear Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but forecasters said another storm from the Gulf of Alaska could bring more rain and snow by late in the weekend.
The vehicles stranded overnight near Gorman included a busload of children from a Merced church. The children, ages 4 to 19, and their 13 adult chaperons were returning from a trip to Disneyland when their bus foundered in about 3 feet of snow.
The children removed wet shoes and clothing and used blankets and sleeping bags to keep warm.
After several hours of waiting, one parent used a cellular phone to summon help. Rescuers couldn't reach the church bus with four-wheel-drive vehicles, so the Kern County Search and Rescue Team brought in snow tractors, and the children were taken to a motel.
Firefighters checked on other stranded motorists throughout the night, but many of them opted to stay in their cars.
Towing companies were caught off-guard by the unusually heavy snow.
"When I got up at 4:30 a.m., it was 2 feet of snow in Lebec," said Toni Bader, office manager for Interstate Towing in Gorman. "We usually get a dusting, not feet of snow. It was a big shock."
The snow forced the closure of all schools in the Antelope Valley and shut down the Antelope Valley Freeway between the San Fernando Valley and the Antelope Valley for almost 12 hours.
Farther east, scores of secondary roads in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains were either closed by the snow or open only to vehicles with four-wheel-drive and chains.
Snow Level Drops to 1,200 Feet
Snow depths for the storm included 6 feet at Mount Baldy, 5 feet at Wrightwood and 3 feet on Mt. Wilson. In some areas, the snow level dropped as low as 1,200 feet.
Snow and ice on antennas atop Mt. Wilson interrupted broadcasting by radio station KPCC in Pasadena.
CHP Officer Curtis Higgins said that among the scores of traffic accidents he was monitoring was a multi-vehicle pileup on the Riverside Freeway in Corona that had closed most lanes of the freeway.
In Orange County, a eucalyptus tree and two utility poles, felled by strong winds, shut down Laguna Canyon Road from El Toro Road to Forest Street, said Sgt. Darin Lenyi of the Laguna Beach Police Department.
By midafternoon, Lenyi said, crews had cleaned the debris and reopened the road. Some neighbors lost phone and cable service for several hours.
Hail was reported at the Windy Ridge plaza above Tustin along the Foothill Tollway, which connects Orange County with the Riverside Freeway. Pea-size hail also fell early Tuesday in parts of Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods and canyon areas to the east.
Pacific Coast Highway was closed by knee-deep runoff water between Warner Avenue and Goldenwest Street in Huntington Beach. Officials said the road would remain closed until the rain ends sometime today.
Two northbound lanes of the Interstate 5 were closed by flooding in the Laguna Woods area, and one southbound lane of the highway was closed by runoff near Irvine.