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19 Hurt as Tour Bus Overturns During Desert Thunderstorm

September 10, 2004|Sandra Murillo, Zeke Minaya and Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writers

Thunderstorms lashed Southern California deserts Thursday afternoon, triggering flash floods that apparently caused a tour bus to overturn on Interstate 15 near the Nevada border, injuring all 19 on board, six of them critically.

Officials said the Las Vegas-bound bus was carrying tourists from Thailand when it skidded on wet pavement near Nipton Road, plunged down a 20-foot embankment and toppled onto its side.

Ten people, including the driver, were thrown from the bus, said Sgt. Tim Smith of the California Highway Patrol.

The rescue was hampered by heavy rain and lightning, and by the inability of rescuers to communicate with the injured passengers, most of whom spoke no English, said Tracey Martinez, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

"They just had to show us and point to what was wrong," she said.

Two of the passengers were airlifted to Las Vegas' University Medical Center. The remainder were taken to the hospital in ambulances. Many suffered head injuries and broken bones, officials said.

Damien Morozumi, a lawyer for Lion Express, the Covina-based firm that operated the bus, said the tourists had boarded in Cerritos.

The accident and flooding stopped eastbound traffic on Interstate 15, the principal highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, for about two hours.

Officials said there were at least seven other accidents in the area within three hours, all of them apparently weather-related. Flooding slowed traffic on several other desert highways, but there were no other reports of road closures.

Flash flood warnings and hazardous weather advisories were issued for the deserts and mountains of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego counties Thursday afternoon as a muggy blanket of monsoonal air enveloped much of Southern California.

Scattered thunderstorms dumped locally heavy rain throughout the mountains and deserts, and showers were reported in Altadena, Downey, Long Beach and the South Bay. A few drops fell in downtown Los Angeles.

Brief, localized flooding was reported across many desert areas in central San Bernardino County and along the remote eastern flank of the Santa Rosa Mountains in southern Riverside County.

The hot, moist weather is expected to continue at least through today, with more rain possible, especially in the mountains and deserts.

National Weather Service meteorologists said the monsoonal weather is not that uncommon in Southern California in early September. Rotating clockwise around a dome of high pressure in northwestern Mexico, tropical air moves in from as far away as the Gulf of Mexico, triggering showers and thunderstorms.

Times staff writer Janet Wilson contributed to this report.

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