California got enough of a respite Tuesday from a deadly El Nino wallop to dig out from the mud and fallen debris, assess the damage and brace for the next onslaught, expected to slam Northern California on Thursday and rumble south.
Meanwhile, the state's death toll from the pounding rains rose to at least half a dozen after three women were swept off a bridge in Carlsbad, north of San Diego, and drowned in their car late Monday.
Two companions were rescued after they scrambled from the overturned vehicle and clung to its undercarriage.
"The water level was 2 1/2 feet over the bridge. It was completely under water," said Brandon Webb, 22, who tried to warn the women, who spoke no English, not to drive across the swollen creek.
Carlsbad police identified the drowning victims as Maria Isabel Melquiades Mora, 24, and Rosa Maria Marcos Santos and Guillermina Hernandes Ramos, ages unknown. The women lived in nearby Vista.
In Northern California, a worker trimming trees off rural California 85 Monday found 48-year-old Sherry Denise Olearczuk dead in her car. California Highway Patrol officials said Olearczuk apparently was driving too fast for weather conditions.
The storm killed at least two others in California, two in Oregon and one in Nevada since the weekend.
At its peak, it left 2 million residents without power, the bulk of them in Northern California and along the northern coast.
On Tuesday, bursts of crisp sunshine were interspersed with scattered showers and pea-sized hail throughout the state as crews scrambled to fix the damage. By 4 p.m., 21,000 Bay Area customers were still without power, but Pacific Gas & Electric crews planned to work into the night to restore electricity.
In the San Gabriel Mountains, at least two mudslides brought trouble to roads where the Williams fire in September burned more than 38,000 acres and left many foothills charred, said Luanne Schupbach, a U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman. Crews were able to clear the mud by Tuesday morning, she said.
Los Angeles County Department of Public Works crews cleared mud and debris from Bouquet Canyon Road, a primary connector between the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. The two-lane road, which had been closed for 11 miles from Vasquez Canyon Road to Spunky Canyon Road since Monday afternoon, was expected to be reopened Tuesday night.
Snow caused the CHP to close the Golden State Freeway in both directions through the Grapevine at 9:15 p.m. Tuesday. It was expected to remain closed for several hours.
The rains brought needed water to a state that suffered a record drought this year. In downtown Los Angeles, Monday's 1.96 inches broke a daily record, set in 1940. Without the rain, L.A. was on track to post its driest calendar year. "We blew it out of the water," said National Weather Service forecaster Curt Kaplan.
Today is expected to be the driest day this week, followed by a heavy 12 to 18 hours of rain on the horizon beginning Thursday night and showers that could continue through Tuesday.
"We've still got a series of storms coming at us," said forecaster Stuart Seto.
For snow lovers, that's welcome news. In Los Angeles County, about two inches fell above 5,000 feet. In the Sierra's Mammoth Lakes, now fell steadily Tuesday, bringing the two-day storm total to about five feet, just in time for the holidays.
Times staff writers Daniel Hernandez and Carol Chambers contributed to this report.