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SOUTHLAND'S DESTRUCTIVE STORMS

Sunshine May Get a Chance

Storms are likely to ease after six days of punishing rains. Mayor Hahn urges President Bush to declare L.A. a disaster area.

February 23, 2005|Daryl Kelley and Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writers

A six-day series of powerful storms dealt Southern California what may be the final, parting blows Tuesday, dropping heavy rain and snow and adding to the widespread damage caused by flooding and mudslides.

Mayor James K. Hahn urged President Bush to declare a federal disaster in Los Angeles, where damage to public and private structures, including at least 96 homes made uninhabitable, was estimated at $10 million. The mayor's office said 27 homes had been red-tagged (entry is prohibited) and 69 had been yellow-tagged (entry is restricted).

Since the first of the year, storm-related damage to roads and public facilities in Los Angeles County has been at least five times that much, more than $52 million, said Donald Wolfe, interim director of the county's Public Works Department.

On Tuesday, officials said floodwaters from the Santa Clara River had carved away about 150 feet of pavement and runway at Santa Paula Airport in Ventura County, closing the airfield indefinitely.

Dozens of roads throughout Southern California were blocked by mud, snow, rocks and debris. Officials said it could be several more days before full Amtrak rail service is restored between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

Homes that had previously started to slide continued to inch downhill. A bluff moved slightly behind La Conchita, the Ventura County coastal community where 10 people died in a Jan. 10 mudslide, but there were no reports of injuries or additional damage.

Threatened tornadoes and massive cloudbursts failed to materialize Tuesday, and for the first time in a week, forecasters were talking about a little sunshine by Thursday.

The National Weather Service said that although there could be scattered showers today and tonight, dry weather was expected Thursday, Friday and Saturday. However, forecasters said the sunshine will be mixed with clouds, and there's a chance of rain again by Sunday night.

Total rainfall for the season in downtown Los Angeles climbed to 33.09 inches by 4 p.m. Tuesday, making this the fourth rainiest season ever recorded. The city is about 5 inches short of the record for an entire season of 38.18 inches, set in 1883-84. Rainfall seasons run from July 1 to June 30.

There were at least five storm-related deaths in Southern California since last week, including a man buried in a mudslide in Woodland Hills, a civil engineer who fell into a massive sinkhole in Sun Valley, a girl crushed by falling rocks in Orange County and two men who died in auto accidents in the Inland Empire.

Los Angeles County

In Pico Rivera, a woman was pulled to safety from waist-deep water in the Rio Hondo on Tuesday afternoon by a Sheriff's Department helicopter. It was not immediately clear how the woman got into the river. She was taken to a hospital for observation, deputies said.

More than 50 roads and freeway lanes in the county remained closed or restricted by storm damage, officials said.

They included several portions of Pacific Coast Highway between Santa Monica and Malibu; Malibu Canyon Road; various lanes of Interstate 5 in Norwalk, Santa Clarita and Castaic; a southbound lane of the Antelope Valley Freeway in Newhall; a westbound lane of the Pomona Freeway in the City of Industry; a southbound lane of the Corona Expressway near Pomona; an eastbound lane of the Artesia Freeway in Long Beach; California 39 above Azusa; Angeles Crest Highway above La Canada Flintridge; California 138 in the Antelope Valley; and Bouquet Canyon Road, Lake Hughes Road, San Francisquito Canyon Road and Sierra Highway in the Santa Clarita area.

Concerns about possible mudslides will keep the northbound tracks of the Metro Gold Line between the Mission and Southwest Museum stations closed for the rest of the week. Trains traveling in both directions will use a single track, slowing service. Service on the Metro Red, Blue and Green lines, interrupted sporadically over the weekend, is back to normal.

Officials were keeping an eye on several properties that had suffered slide damage earlier, including homes in Woodland Hills, Hacienda Heights, Highland Park, Silver Lake, La Canada Flintridge, Pasadena and Bel-Air.

A winter storm watch was issued for the San Gabriel Mountains, where as much as 8 feet of snow had fallen since last week.

Ventura County

Walter Marple, owner of an airplane maintenance and repair facility at Santa Paula Airport, said the Santa Clara River had been rising steadily since the latest spate of storms struck last week.

"Normally, it's about 20 feet wide. Now, it's more like 600 feet wide," Marple said. "It's been eating away at the runway for a couple of days, and finally, it washed a big section away."

Marple said the washout closed down all operations at the airport, which is home to about 300 light planes.

Rowena Mason, president of the Santa Paula Airport Assn., said crews using heavy equipment had apparently stopped the river's advance by midafternoon.

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