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Rainstorm wallops Southern California

Moderate to heavy showers over wildfire-denuded hillsides send mud and rocks tumbling onto roads, trapping about 90 vehicles and forcing evacuations of more than 40 homes.

December 13, 2009|By Ruben Vives and Tony Barboza
  • Angeles Crest Highway was closed Saturday as another rainstorm pounded Southern California. About 90 vehicles were reported stuck in the mud along a 12-mile stretch of the road. The National Weather Service issued a flash-flood warning for the Station fire burn area in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Angeles Crest Highway was closed Saturday as another rainstorm pounded… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

The strongest of three back-to-back rainstorms is expected to clear out by midday today after walloping Southern California on Saturday, sending mud and rocks tumbling onto roads, trapping about 90 vehicles on mountainous Angeles Crest Highway for hours and causing officials to issue mandatory evacuation orders for more than 40 homes.

There were no reports of major damage or injuries late Saturday night. But more rainfall was expected overnight and into the morning, further saturating wildfire-denuded hillsides.

By Saturday night, the National Weather Service had issued flash-flood warnings for areas of the Angeles National Forest burned in the Station and Morris fires. Radar showed moderate and heavy showers moving over the barren, mountainous forest land, and officials were preparing for the possibility of more mudflows overnight.

About 90 vehicles were stuck along Angeles Crest Highway, a narrow road that twists through the San Gabriel Mountains.

Firefighters responded to reports after 3 p.m. of scattered vehicles caught in mud flows between mile markers 26 and 39, said Capt. Frank Reynoso of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Other cars were trapped between mudslides and rock slides.

About 50 stranded motorists were taken to Newcomb's Ranch Restaurant & Bar to wait as crews worked to remove the last 20 vehicles, officials said. By 6:30 p.m., the remaining motorists and their vehicles were able to leave the area, said Mike Noxin, an assistant manager at Newcomb's Ranch.

"Everyone was just looking to get down off the mountain," he said.

Although some roads in the Angeles National Forest were ordered closed Saturday morning, Angeles Crest Highway remained open until the series of mudslides rendered the road impassable. The California Highway Patrol had not determined Saturday night when the road would be reopened.

As rain intensified Saturday night, authorities issued orders to evacuate 36 homes in La Cañada Flintridge, six in La Crescenta and two in the Big Tujunga area, said Bob Spencer, a spokesman for the county Department of Public Works.

As of 4 p.m. Saturday, downtown Los Angeles had received 1.26 inches of rain since the same time Thursday; Burbank, 1.49 inches; and Eaton Dam in Pasadena, 2.52 inches. Nearly 4 inches of rain had fallen in parts of the Angeles National Forest since Thursday.

As a result, several saturated hillsides began giving way Saturday -- even in areas far from the burn areas.

Debris and rocks fell from a steep hillside on La Presa Drive in the Hollywood Hills, threatening one home in the 6900 block; the occupants voluntarily evacuated.

Minor rock slides and mudflows were reported in Topanga Canyon and Sylmar and on San Gabriel Canyon Road. Flooding closed a 3-mile stretch of southbound Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach.

For much of Saturday, public works crews in threatened communities patrolled streets with bulldozers ready to scoop up mud and debris.

Residents in the foothill communities of La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge remained in place, casting a wary eye on the ashen mountains above.

On the northern edge of La Crescenta, a burst of rainfall unleashed an ankle-high layer of mud down Canyonside Road in the early afternoon, leaving the residential road covered in dirt, rocks and roots.

The mud began flowing down the street as fast as a jogger, but homes along the street were protected by large concrete traffic dividers that lined both sides of the street.

"It sounded like a fast- moving river," said Bob Jamieson, 59, who stood on the driveway of his mother-in-law's home about 1:30 p.m. He watched as public works crews cleaned up the road.

To the east, in La Cañada Flintridge, George Wiktor, 59, canceled a gingerbread party at his home, moving it to a friend's house. Wiktor planned to be a no-show at his own party to keep watch at his house.

"All of us here are resigned to the fact that the mud is going to flow this season," Wiktor said. "It's inevitable. It's the price you pay when you live here."

A reminder of the threat of floods and mudslides stands in Montrose, just south of La Crescenta, where a plaque recalls the "great flood" of 1934 that swept away residents who lost their lives to massive debris flows.

Residents on Ocean View Boulevard in La Cañada Flintridge stayed in the holiday spirit. Concrete barriers were decorated with Christmas lights, candy canes and ribbons.

The storm caused scattered power outages that affected 17,000 homes, including in Brentwood, Culver City, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Toluca Lake, Venice and West Los Angeles. Most outages were resolved within several hours, authorities said.

ruben.vives@latimes.com

tony.barboza@latimes.com

Times staff writers Mike Anton, Esmeralda Bermudez, Robert Faturechi and Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.

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