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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Continued Rain Raises Threat of Heavy Flooding

Weather: Some residents are evacuated as Ventura, Santa Clara rivers near their peaks. Another day of storms could bring 'major problems.' Sewage treatment plant overflows.

March 06, 2001|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Torrential rains swelled rivers and creeks, blocked highways and knocked out power Monday across Ventura County, as officials warned of serious flooding if the storm continues as expected today.

The rising Ventura River caused the evacuation of the Ventura Beach RV Resort, while the CHP considered closing Highway 101 just north of the resort because of flooding. The Santa Clara River approached the flood stage, threatening low-lying homes.

Power outages were reported throughout the county, there were at least a dozen minor traffic accidents and the swift-water rescue teams were on call throughout the day.

More than 600,000 gallons of partially treated sewage flowed into the Ventura River.

A rockslide blocked Highway 150 between Ojai and Carpinteria, the CHP reported.

As of late Monday afternoon, 8.8 inches of rain had fallen at Lake Casitas, 4.1 inches at the Ventura County Government Center and 2 inches in Simi Valley.

Bruce Rockwell, a weather specialist at the National Weather Service in Oxnard, said coastal areas of the county received an average of 3 inches of rain, while inland areas got 4 to 5 inches.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for the Santa Ynez River in Santa Barbara County and the Santa Clara River in Ventura County.

"These rains are close to what we experienced in El Nino," said Dolores Taylor, senior hydrologist for the Ventura County Flood Control District. "A lot of rivers will be peaking before breakfast . . ."

County officials say that because of this year's heavier-than-usual rainfall, the ground is saturated, and unable to absorb additional rain.

"If this goes on for another day, we anticipate major problems," said Sandi Wells, spokeswoman for the Ventura County Fire Department. "We'll see more flooding of homes and more damage."

Meteorologists forecast rain and thunderstorms for today, and say the bad weather probably won't clear until mid-Wednesday.

Santa Barbara County was the worst hit, with some areas reporting 10 inches of rain. Old Man Mountain, which sits on the border between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties near Carpinteria, received 12.4 inches.

The deluge caused sewage tanks to overflow at the Ojai Valley Sanitary District beginning at 6 a.m. Monday. About 1,700 gallons per minute of partially treated sewage flowed into the Ventura River from the Ventura Avenue plant.

"Nothing leaked--we just had to let go of the water," said district General Manager John Correa said. He expected additional overflow on Tuesday.

Correa said the disinfected sewage had been 80% treated and was not dangerous.

But county health officials said the sewage still could contain bacteria, and they advised people to keep away from all storm runoff. They also warned people to stay out of the Ventura River and off the beaches between Ventura and Faria, six miles up the coast.

About 9:30 a.m. Monday, wind and rain knocked out power to 5,000 Southern California Edison customers in Ventura, Meiners Oaks and Casitas Springs. For most, electricity was restored in 45 minutes, but others went without until late afternoon. On Sunday, an outage in Thousand Oaks left 900 customers in the dark. The electricity was restored to most customers by 5 a.m. Monday.

In Oak View, the outage meant doughnuts by candlelight at Donuts & More as patrons ate breakfast and watched commuters on Highway 33 crawl through a flooded intersection where the traffic lights were out.

Down the highway, workers from Ventura County Flood Control dropped instruments from a bridge over San Antonio Creek, testing the roiling water's velocity.

Thacher Creek, in Ojai's east end, flooded onto roads, and up the Maricopa Highway the swollen Ventura River cut off access to homes along Camino Cielo.

Most of the dozen residents had parked their cars along the highway the night before and walked the 100-yard footbridge suspended over the churning stream.

"I've been waiting to see this," said Ken Andreasen, who moved to his Camino Cielo home a year ago and has not had to use the footbridge before.

The rain was so strong that it bruised ripe strawberries, forcing growers to pick and discard them, said Rex Laird, executive director of the Ventura County Farm Bureau.

"About now we are approaching too much rain," he said. "The soil is completely loaded."

The rain increased demand for roofing tar and rolls of heavy plastic.

"We've sold a lot of roofing materials," said Tim Mayberry, owner of Mayberry's Masonry Supplies in Santa Paula. "A lot of roofs just aren't holding up."

Nearby, Fruit Growers Supply sold sandbags sporadically, but with traffic snarled it was just as well there wasn't a rush.

"The sirens have been going off like there was a parade or something," assistant warehouse supervisor Ian Newman said.

Ferocious storms aren't new to the county.

In 1992, flood waters killed three people and washed away more than 30 motor homes at the Ventura Beach RV Park. The flood forced 110 people to flee the park.

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