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Southern California storms begin to subside

Evacuations are lifted in the foothill areas as the last and strongest of three storms moves out of the area, leaving a muddy mess behind. Four hikers missing in Eaton Canyon are rescued.

December 13, 2009|By Ruben Vives, Tony Barboza and Corina Knoll

After a tense weekend on weather watch for many Southern California residents, the strongest of the three storms to hit the area was expected to clear out by midday today.

The trio of rainstorms walloped Southern California on Saturday, sending mud and rocks tumbling onto roads and trapping about 90 vehicles on mountainous Angeles Crest Highway for hours.

Mandatory evacuations, which had been issued for more than 40 homes Saturday, were lifted as of this morning in the foothill areas. Evacuations had been lifted for all residents of La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge and Big Tujunga Canyon, according to L.A. County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida.

Nishida said four hikers who went missing Saturday night in Eaton Canyon were rescued this morning. A sheriff's helicopter discovered the group, which consisted of an 11-year-old, two 18-year-olds and a 43-year-old, at about 7 a.m. None of them was injured.

Also this morning, Angeles Crest Highway remained closed due to mudslides at mile marker 26 in La Cañada Flintridge and at Angeles Forest Highway and Aliso Canyon Road in the Angeles National Forest. Big Tujunga Canyon Road also was closed from Mt. Gleason to Angeles Forest Highway.

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.

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.

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.

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 in which residents were swept awa, losing 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.

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

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