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Storm Stoked by Fierce Winds

January 03, 2006|Marla Cone and Charles Piller | Times Staff Writers

A rainstorm packing 40- to 50-mph winds howled across Southern California on Monday, toppling trees and power lines and disrupting light-rail service in Pasadena during the Rose Parade.

The gusts ripped through mountain passes, foothills and valleys most of the day, reaching 96 mph in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Mt. Wilson and 62 mph in the Santa Clarita community of Saugus. Even in areas closer to the coast, some gusts were more than 40 mph.

Emergency officials reported no major flooding, mudslides or wind damage.

Meanwhile, the stormy weather subsided in the Central Valley and Northern California, hammered by several days of rain that led to flooding and landslides. Rain continued throughout Monday, but it was light and did not swell rivers that had overflowed during the weekend. The Napa River fell to well below flood level, and homeowners and businesses continued to dig out from mud and debris.

Only low-lying Guerneville, on the Russian River in Sonoma County, remained underwater by Monday afternoon. The river had crested at 42 feet late Saturday night but slowly receded to 38 feet by Monday afternoon and was expected to drop below flood level -- 32 feet -- by early this morning, said Mike Edwards, a Sonoma Country spokesman.

Before touring inundated areas around downtown Napa, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday declared a state of emergency in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Napa, Sacramento, Sonoma and Trinity counties -- paving the way for state and federal relief funds.

"We will do anything and everything to ensure you get as much money as possible," Schwarzenegger told Napa city and county officials at a late-afternoon briefing.

The governor pledged to ask President Bush for money to improve flood-control preparations, including reinforcement of bridges and levees around the state to prevent a New Orleans-type disaster in a major earthquake. He promised to commit state dollars to that effort as well.

Officials in the Napa Valley said the most recent storm could have been far worse but for flood-control improvements undertaken primarily by local governments the last few years. They complained that the federal government had not contributed its share of upfront costs.

The federal government continues "to pay hundreds of millions of dollars over time for relief instead of paying tens of millions to fix the problem," said Barry Martin, a spokesman for Napa County.

Martin estimated the total remaining cost of protecting the county against a 100-year flood to be $100 million to $125 million.

The governor toured the flooded Napa home of Greg Allen, 37, and Zinaida Beynon, 33. He walked through their living room, where the water rose to 4 feet, passing furniture propped up on pieces of wood and stepping over wet cardboard lining the floor before looking at the receding water behind the house. He praised the couple and their neighbors for their determination to quickly recover from the mess.

Most of the massive flood control system in Sacramento and San Joaquin counties operated without incident, but several levees were threatened and some leaks were reported by the state Department of Water Resources. The system, which includes major dams and 1,600 miles of levees, was battered by one of the wettest Decembers on record in the northern Sierra Nevada watershed -- nearly 26 inches of rain, according to initial estimates.

A levee breach Monday forced the evacuation of about 100 residents near Collinsville, said Jeanie Esajian of the Department of Water Resources. Only two homes were reported flooded as of Monday afternoon, she said. A 1,000-foot breach also was reported Monday on remote Van Sickle Island in the Suisun Marsh area of Solano County, a road-less area accessible only by boat, where just a few people live.

Southern California and the Central Coast took the brunt of the storm Monday. In Pasadena, the gusts loosened scaffolding from a construction site. It hung perilously over the Metro Gold Line tracks near the Del Mar station, prompting officials to halt service between Lake Avenue and Mission Street in South Pasadena and shut down three stations.

Two of the stations, Del Mar and Memorial Park, were the ones closest to the Tournament of Roses Parade. They were shut down about two hours after the parade began, just when many people were leaving to ride the trains home.

Several thousand parade-goers and other riders were affected, some delayed by about an hour as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority dispatched 30 buses to take them around the shut-down part of the line.

MTA spokesman Bill Heard said it could have been worse, because a lot of rain-soaked people had already left the parade route before the Gold Line stations were closed.

"The bad weather actually helped us out," Heard said. "A lot of people started leaving the parade before the parade began because of the terrible weather. There was a steady stream of people leaving during the parade."

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