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A Rising Tide of Problems

Rescuers airlift a Boy Scout troop stranded north of Ojai, and firefighters save a motorist at Hart Park in Orange.

March 16, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

The rain that pounded Southern California on Saturday touched off scores of traffic accidents, collapsed part of a roof at a skating rink and stranded a Boy Scout troop.

Up to 3 inches of rain fell in the coastal and valley areas, while the foothills and mountains received as much as 5 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

By nightfall, the storm had brought the season's rainfall total to 13 inches in Los Angeles, just above the normal mark. Nine Moorpark Boy Scouts and two troop assistants on an outing were trapped at 6 a.m. when the rain raised the level of Sespe Creek, north of Ojai, more than 3 feet.

"The kids were excited, but some of them were very nervous," said John Barlow, an assistant for Moorpark Troop No. 706. "I mean we were expecting some rain, but when I got down to the river, the banks had overflowed."

A scoutmaster used rope to cross the creek and telephone for help. A Ventura County Sheriff's Department helicopter landed on a sandbar and carried the boys, mostly 12- and 13-year-olds, and the assistants to safety.

At the Oxnard Ice Skating Center, more than 300 people were evacuated about 10:30 a.m. when a section of roof collapsed, sending 2,000 gallons of rainwater into an empty dressing room and nearby lobby. No injuries were reported.

"I was just about to start teaching a lesson when I heard a rumble and then a torrent of water came rushing out," said rink co-owner Mike Paikin.

Orange County police reported heavy rain that caused drainage problems at many intersections as well as myriad traffic woes.

"We had reports of lots of traffic accidents because there's been a lot of rain, but nothing out of the ordinary," said Orange County Sheriff's Lt. David Wilson.

A motorist found trapped after driving into Santiago Creek at Hart Park in Orange was rescued from his car roof by firefighters, an Orange Fire Department spokesman said.

Isacc Mendoza of Anaheim had "apparently ignored" barricades, said Orange Fire Capt. Ian McDonald. The creek bed, which is covered with cement, provides a place for parking on dry days. Saturday's storm resulted in runoff that rose above the wheel well of Mendoza's car, McDonald said. The victim was tossed a line and escorted to safety.

Throughout Los Angeles County, the California Highway Patrol received more than 1,600 calls about collisions, more than three times the number last Saturday. Two died in Saturday's crashes.

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