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County Takes a Stormy Thrashing

Rain collapses a roof at an ice rink, strands Scouts and puts a halt to Ventura's annual St. Patrick's Day parade.

March 16, 2003|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

A Pacific rainstorm pounded Ventura County on Saturday, stranding a shivering Boy Scout troop on a river sandbar above Ojai, collapsing a roof at a packed Oxnard ice rink and forcing the cancellation of the annual St. Patrick's Day parade and an auto race in Ventura.

The storm had moved through the area by about 4 p.m. Saturday, but not before dropping more than 5 inches of rain in the mountains and nearly 4 inches along the coast. There was a 20% chance of showers today.

"It was really quite powerful," said Bruce Rockwell, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Oxnard. "We got as much rain during 24 hours as we usually get for the entire month."

The downpour raised the level of Sespe Creek by more than 3 feet, trapping nine Moorpark Boy Scouts and two troop assistants on a large sandbar in the Rose Valley area.

"The kids were excited, but some of them were very nervous," said John Barlow, an assistant for Troop 706. "I mean, we were expecting some rain, but when I got down to the river, the banks had overflowed and the water was running swift."

Scoutmaster Dale Owens used ropes to cross the swollen waterway to reach his car. But after realizing his cell phone could not pick up a signal, Owens drove five miles to another campground, where a park manager called authorities.

A Ventura County sheriff's helicopter landed on the sandbar and picked up the boys, mostly 12 and 13 years old, and two assistants and took them to a nearby campground parking lot. Assistant Rich Brosco suffered a gash on his leg when he slipped on a rock while trying to cross the river.

"The group was on the sandbar in the middle of the creek, and they were definitely surrounded by water. They were huddled together and it was clear they were all not going to make it across," said Deputy Mike Berg, the helicopter crew chief. "Some of the boys were shivering pretty good when we got them on board."

The group crossed the creek Friday afternoon while hiking to their campsite, an outing that was preparation for a rigorous five-day camping trip this summer in the Sierra. Rain started hammering the Scouts, some of whom were sleeping without tents, about 3 a.m. They decided to wait until daylight to seek help.

About 9 a.m., as the Scouts were being rescued, nearly 100 decorated vehicles, homemade floats, Irish dancers and marching bands were huddled at Mission Park in downtown Ventura, waiting for the start of the city's 15th annual St. Patrick's Day parade.

Minutes before it was to begin, though, police canceled the event, citing flooding on Main Street and concerns about liability if someone slipped on the wet pavement, parade officials said.

"I think this is the first time we've ever had a cancellation because of rain," said Mayor Ray Di Guilio, a parade judge. "It was raining pretty hard, but that didn't stop the activity."

Realizing that the show wasn't going on -- at least outdoors -- parade officials led a caravan of marchers and float drivers to the Elks Lodge a few blocks away, where musicians, dancers and corned beef lovers partied for several hours.

California Highway Patrol officers were so inundated with traffic crashes that by noon they asked drivers in non-injury collisions to swap information among themselves and file a report in person with authorities on Monday.

There were no serious injuries, although the CHP responded to nearly 100 incidents between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. -- three times as many calls as on a normal day, a dispatcher said.

In one accident, four drivers traveling south on the Ventura Freeway at Seacliff lost control of their vehicles and tangled, sending one skidding down the road on its side. Traffic was backed up into Ventura more than a mile.

Rain also was to blame for the cancellation of a nationally sanctioned midget car race at the Ventura Raceway at Seaside Park. The downpour turned the dirt track into mud and flooded the pits, officials said.

"This is very disappointing, because a lot of people drove and flew in from across the country," said Jimmy Crawford, who had planned to compete Saturday. About 40 entrants were denied a chance to compete for a top prize of more than $3,000, Crawford said.

At the Oxnard Ice Skating Center on Wagon Wheel Road, more than 300 young ice hockey players and others were evacuated about 10:30 a.m. when a 30-by-30-foot section of roof collapsed, sending 2,000 gallons of rainwater into an empty dressing room and nearby lobby area.

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

Although a hockey tournament was in progress, no one was injured inside the 70,000-square-foot facility. The competitors drove to a Simi Valley rink to finish the competition. Building and safety inspectors closed the building, but it could reopen as early as today, Paikin said.

The breach, he said, probably was caused by an excessive amount of leaves and debris that had gathered in a rain gutter.

By 6 p.m. Saturday, the rain had subsided. Nearly 3 inches fell in Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley and nearly 4 inches in Oxnard and Ventura. The mountains surrounding Ojai and the Matilija Dam area received more than 5 inches of rain.

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