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Storm takes freezing turn

Temperatures could drop into mid-30s by Wednesday in areas already sopping with heavy rain and snow.

December 16, 2008|Andrew Blankstein, Paloma esquivel and Nathan Olivarez-Giles | Blankstein, Esquivel and Olivarez-Giles are Times staff writers.

Heavy rain and snow are expected to be replaced by sub-freezing temperatures in some areas of Southern California after the first major storm of the season pummeled the region Monday, triggering evacuations in some burn areas, collapsing the roof of a school and causing at least two traffic fatalities.

The storm dumped more than 2 inches of rain in some areas, including Beverly Hills, and nearly 2 feet of snow in the mountains, said Stuart Seto of the National Weather Service. Scattered showers and thunderstorms are expected through Wednesday afternoon as the massive storm system begins moving out of the area.

"This is atypical for this time of year, a very cold Alaskan storm that carries significant rain," Seto said. "As it moves through, temperatures are going to be significantly colder than normal."

Temperatures are expected to drop into the mid-30s throughout the region by late Wednesday, but some areas, including the Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County and portions of inland Ventura County, could see the mercury dip even lower, Seto said.

Avocado and citrus growers are prepared in the event that temperatures plunge into the upper-20s late Thursday, said John Krist, chief executive of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County. A January 2007 freeze resulted in an estimated $1.3 billion in county crop losses.

But this week's cold snap is expected to be brief and -- with proper precautions -- unlikely to cause significant damage, Krist said. "It will be chilly but we don't expect to see much, if any, real crop damage from it."

On Monday, the winter storm's heavy rains wreaked havoc across the region.

In Anaheim, 13 people were taken to local hospitals after the roof collapsed at the North Orange County Regional Occupational Program building while students were inside, authorities said. One of four main drains of the 20,000-square-foot structure was not working, causing water to accumulate on the roof, said Maria Sabol, spokeswoman for the Anaheim Fire Department.

One woman was trapped under roof debris and had to be extricated, Sabol said. Other victims reported back injuries, difficulty breathing, sore shoulders and anxiety, she said.

In Hacienda Heights, California Highway Patrol Officer Joseph Sanders was responding to a rain-related single-car crash on the eastbound 60 Freeway about 4:30 a.m. Monday when he was struck by another car and killed, authorities said. Sanders, 29, was setting down flares at the scene when two other vehicles crashed and skidded out of control, and one vehicle struck the officer.

Sanders, a father of three who began his career as a CHP officer 14 months ago after having served in the Marine Corps in Iraq, was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead from his injuries, authorities said. His wife is pregnant with their fourth child.

The accident forced the closure of the eastbound freeway for almost 11 hours.

In Santa Barbara County, a mudslide was reported about 6 a.m. in the burn areas around Montecito near Westmont College, said Steven Van Horn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. No injuries or damage has been reported, Van Horn said.

In east San Diego, one person was killed and another injured when an armored truck flipped over and rolled down an embankment on a transition road between California 94 and Interstate 15, authorities said. The crash was rain-related.

Meanwhile, flash-flood warnings were issued in areas of the San Fernando Valley, Griffith Park and Santa Barbara County charred in last month's wildfires, according to the National Weather Service. In Orange County, mandatory evacuation orders were temporarily issued for burn areas around Yorba Linda.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Greg McKeown said officials were monitoring the hillsides for any movement. As of late Monday, no major mudslides had been reported.

"The more saturated these hillsides become, the more likely a mudslide or debris flow is," he said, standing at the end of a cul-de-sac looking at fire-scorched hillsides, "We are worried about heavy rain in a short amount of time."

Snow fell to below 4,000 feet in some mountain areas, causing schools to close in the San Bernardino Mountains. The storm also caused major congestion in some mountain passes, including along I-15, where motorists reported whiteout conditions.

Los Angeles officials closed the Sepulveda Basin because of rising water levels. Several streets in an area bounded by Victory Boulevard to the north, Burbank Boulevard to the south, Balboa Boulevard to the west and the 405 Freeway to the east were temporarily closed, said Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Ben Loewellyn.

A two-vehicle collision on the westbound Santa Monica Freeway left a 65-year-old woman dead when the car she was traveling in flipped over about 4 p.m., authorities said. Three others were treated for moderate injuries.

It was unclear whether the accident was rain-related.

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