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Season's First Storm Turns Out to Be Curse, Blessing

The rain eases the fire danger in Southern California, but it sparks accidents, churns up big waves and knocks out power to many.

November 09, 2002|Gregory W. Griggs, Holly J. Wolcott and Kenneth Reich | Times Staff Writers

Parts of California seemed to be getting all the rain that nature withheld the past year as a Pacific storm swept the state, drenching the Bay Area and ending fire closures in two Southland national forests.

The storm, which brought the Los Angeles Basin its first significant rainfall in almost 10 months, spanned much of the West Coast. Waves, some approaching 30 feet, crashed along the shore, the Sierra Nevada braced for up to 4 feet of snow, and power outages hit San Francisco and nearly 100,000 Southern California Edison customers.

"The farther north you go, the heavier it is," said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service. "It has not gone very far inland or very far south of Los Angeles in heavy amounts."

At its most potent in Central and Northern California, the season's first storm poured up to 4 inches of rain on the San Luis Obispo County coast and pounded the San Francisco Bay Area and parts of Ventura County with 6 inches.

"It's a pretty intense storm for the first storm of the season," Seto said. "It's been 283 days since we last had more than half an inch in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. This is a good ground-soaker."

The rainfall is expected to taper off today, leaving partly cloudy skies on Sunday.

An inch to 1 1/2inches of rain fell in the basin, where it was desperately needed after last year, the driest season in Los Angeles since record-keeping began in 1877. Dust-cloaked hillsides received a dousing, and Southern California national forests closed to recreational use in September because of extreme fire danger were reopened Friday afternoon.

U.S. Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes said the recreational ban was lifted in almost all of the Angeles National Forest and parts of the San Bernardino National Forest. The Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County, where little rain has fallen, remained closed.

Near Corona, the driver of a charter bus on Interstate 15 lost control of the vehicle on the slick roadway about 1 a.m. Friday, and the bus skidded on its side into the median, according to the California Highway Patrol. The driver and 35 passengers, who were returning to Monterey Park from an Indian casino, sustained minor to moderate injuries. They were treated at seven hospitals.

In Santa Monica, a one-story duplex slid down a slight slope onto a gas meter Friday evening, prompting authorities to evacuate nearby residents.

"Two people were inside and heard a creaking, cracking noise and they exited and it slid," Fire Chief Mike Curtis said.

The 4th Street house, which was not bolted to the foundation, separated at its raised floor, Curtis said. It was not immediately clear if rain was the cause.

Authorities also did not know if the predawn crash of a small plane Friday near the 91 Freeway was related to the bad weather. The pilot, alone aboard the plane, was killed.

In South Lake Tahoe, a large tree crashed onto a vehicle traveling along a snowy trans-Sierra highway Friday evening, killing two people and forcing closure of the road for three hours.

Up to 6 inches of rain soaked Ventura County, temporarily closing a key Ventura Freeway bridge and causing road flooding, minor damage to buildings, dozens of car crashes and effectively ending a long fire season.

Traffic backed up for miles Friday morning after the CHP closed the Santa Clara River Bridge for 45 minutes, fearing that heavy rain and construction work had undermined bridge supports.

Diana Rice, a Ventura title company employee, was taking her car to Camarillo for service when she approached the bridge at about 45 mph. She said she hit a slick spot in the road, spun around twice and slammed into a retaining wall.

"It's pretty horrifying out here," she said from the roadside shortly after the crash. "It's pouring down rain, traffic is backed up, and I just wrecked my BMW ....Now I'm waiting for a tow truck and a rent-a-car."

Nearly 4 inches of rain pummeled the Ojai area overnight, and about 2 inches fell on the coastal plains from Ventura to Thousand Oaks.

The effects of the storm -- the heaviest to hit Ventura County since the floods of 1998 -- were felt throughout the area: a post office was slightly damaged in Oxnard; a couple were rescued after their car settled into 2 feet of water at Camarillo Springs; and streets were overflowing in flood-prone areas such as El Rio.

Above Ojai, the Los Padres National Forest reopened campgrounds that had been closed because of the fire danger.

In the San Fernando Valley, two jackknifed big-rigs caused a three-car collision on the rain-slick eastbound Ronald Reagan Freeway in Chatsworth on Friday afternoon, prompting the CHP to close the roadway for 40 minutes, said Officer John Seumanutafa. No injuries were reported.

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