A fourth day of thrashing thunderstorms began to take a heavier toll on Southern California on Sunday with at least three deaths blamed on the rain, as flooding and mudslides forced road closures and emergency crews carried out harrowing rescue operations.
In Elysian Park, a 42-year-old homeless man was killed and another injured when a mudslide swept away their makeshift encampment. Another man was killed on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu when his SUV skidded into a mud patch and plunged into the Pacific Ocean. Ventura County officials reported Sunday that a 20-year-old man died north of Ojai as he tried to cross a rain-gorged creek Saturday, wearing a harness attached to a wire.
For others it was a day of close calls.
Dozens of people fled threatened neighborhoods from Santa Clarita to San Dimas. In the Hollywood Hills, a family narrowly survived as their multistory home collapsed, apparently in a torrent of mud. Hundreds of motorists skidded into minor traffic accidents.
A Highland man remained stranded but safe in a San Bernardino County cave as raging waters outside prevented rescuers from reaching him. "The only way to get to the cave is to cross this water, [but] it's flowing too heavily. It's too dangerous," said Cindy Beavers, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
The storms had stalled over an area of the Pacific Ocean on Sunday evening, a few hundred miles off the coast of Point Conception, west of Santa Barbara, said Bruce Rockwell, a specialist with the National Weather Service.
"It's stationary off the coast and constantly pumps in moist water from the south," he said.
Forecasters had originally said that some areas of Southern California might receive more than 20 inches of precipitation over the weekend. Although they later reduced that estimate, a campground near Mt. Wilson, Opids Camp, received 20.82 inches of precipitation between 4 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday.
In that same time period, downtown Los Angeles received 4.49 inches of rain, Beverly Hills 7.79 inches, Santa Monica 4.7 inches, Chatsworth 5.81 inches, Claremont 7.51 inches and Lancaster 2.36 inches.
Continued downpours were expected through Tuesday, when the jet stream airflow from the north was expected to start pushing the storm inland toward Nevada.
Southern California has been drenched by a string of storms that began in late December and have been only sporadically interrupted by clear skies.
The current dousing, which began Thursday, has been the heaviest. More than 15 inches have fallen in Los Angeles in the first nine days of 2005, as much as the average annual rainfall downtown.
All across the Southland, residents dealt with rockslides, debris flows, downed trees, power outages and mandatory evacuations, though there were few serious injuries.
Mudslides, a sinkhole and other water damage forced Metrolink and Amtrak to cancel some train routes serving Los Angeles and Ventura Counties today.
In Orange County, a combination of storm runoff and big surf caused health officials to close Corona del Mar State Beach in Newport Beach and Capistrano County Beach in Dana Point because of sewage pipe leaks.
More than 300 miles away in the Eastern Sierra, skiers and snowboarders glided atop 48 inches of snow that has fallen on Mammoth Mountain since Friday. "We've just been pounded," said Joani Lynch, a Mammoth Mountain spokeswoman. Some ski runs were closed at Big Bear Mountain Resorts because of heavy rains.
In Los Angeles County, the Department of Water and Power reported thousands of power outages in homes from Echo Park to Bel-Air. A rain-related accident on Mt. Wilson tore down transmission lines, interrupting the broadcast of the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos playoff game on KCBS for two hours. In addition, at least half a dozen radio stations went off the air for more than an hour, including KIIS-FM (102.7) and KCBS-FM (93.1).
And in Arcadia, eight of nine horse races at Santa Anita Park were canceled for the first time in 10 years because of rain. As heavy rain fell in other parts of California, but the storms in the Southland presented the biggest challenges.
Los Angeles County
The 42-year-old homeless man who died in Elysian Park had been living with a younger acquaintance in a tent on top of a hill on the 1700 block of Stadium Way, just north of the Pasadena Freeway.
The man, identified as Jeffrey Lynn Earwood, was trapped under hundreds of pounds of thick mud, according to Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey. When rescue workers arrived, they said, only one of his limbs was visible. Humphrey said firefighters dug him out in less than 10 minutes, but he died at the scene.
The other man, who was unidentified, received minor injuries.