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Storm brings rain, sleet and snow

The largest storm of the season stretched from Oregon to the Mexican border, closing Interstate 5 through the Grapevine and shutting Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass.

February 17, 2009|Ann M. Simmons, Corina Knoll and Hector Becerra

Cameron Akbari and his girlfriend sat in the cab of his truck in Castaic on Monday as heavy rain and sleet poured from the heavens.

Akbari, 47, was trying to get to Bakersfield to deliver ice cream cones. But his journey was barred by slushy snow.

The largest storm of the season stretched from Oregon to the Mexican border, closing Interstate 5 and shutting Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass. Both highways were reopened Monday night, but a California Highway Patrol official said that it's possible Interstate 5 may be closed again due to bad weather.

Rain swamped the greens at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament, canceling the final round.

By Monday afternoon, sunny skies were beginning to peek out, but forecasters said a second wave of rain would arrive late Monday and persist into today's morning commute.

Officials recorded 70 accidents on L.A. County freeways between midnight and 5 a.m. as well as numerous flooded streets. Because it was Presidents Day, there were fewer backups than on a normal rainy day.

The heavy rains prompted communities such as Sierra Madre -- where hills were stripped of vegetation by recent wildfires -- to warn of potential debris and mud flows, though no major ones were reported. Residents in the burn areas around Yorba Linda and Montecito stood by for possible evacuations, but the charred hillsides held up.

In the San Fernando Valley, firefighters used ropes and a litter basket to pull an injured hiker from a canyon near Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park. The man had gone hiking Sunday and apparently slipped off a trail and plunged into the canyon about 5 p.m., said L.A. City Fire Department spokeswoman D'Lisa Davies. Monday morning, another hiker heard his cries for help, she said.

Rescue crews had planned to hoist him out of the canyon with a helicopter, but swirling winds and heavy rains made that too dangerous, Davies said. By about 11 a.m., he was being taken to a hospital. "He had been down there overnight, injured, and possibly with hypothermia," Davies said.

In Laurel Canyon, about 1,700 customers were without power into the early afternoon. An additional 2,700 customers in Silver Lake were also briefly without power because of downed power lines, said Department of Water and Power spokeswoman Stephanie Interiano.

Southern California Edison spokesman Gil Alexander said 53,000 customers were without power in Southern California, most of them for only a few minutes. By 4 p.m., about 6,300 were still without service, he said, with Agoura Hills, Carson, Inglewood, Long Beach, Simi Valley, Joshua Tree, Phelan and Torrance most affected, Alexander said.

But it's hard to protest rain too much when there's been a prolonged drought. January was extremely dry, with only about 0.3 of an inch of rain. From a meteorological standpoint, this month has been a welcome relief. Thus far, more than 3 inches of rain have fallen in downtown L.A.. An average February has just under 2 inches, said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Kelly Redmond, a regional climatologist with the Desert Research Institute in Reno, said the storm produced a lot of rainfall in relatively short bursts. It's the kind of storm that comes out of the frigid Gulf of Alaska, he said.

These cold storms can also produce tornadoes. L.A. actually gets almost as many tornadoes as Oklahoma, Redmond said, but they are almost always much smaller and far less destructive. Twisters were not a problem Monday, though.

"When it snows this hard, it does keep a few people away, but the benefit, of course, is we're going to have a ton of snow, and that sets us up for the next several weeks just wonderfully," said Chris Riddle, director of marketing for Big Bear Mountain Resorts. "We lose a little business during the act of the storm, but the conditions are going to be so good after the storm everyone's going to take advantage."

At Cowboy Express Steak House in Big Bear, server Julie Keymel waited for customers as snow fell outside.

"It's ridiculous, it's like a blizzard right now. It's really, really windy," she said.

The road that leads to the restaurant had yet to be plowed. Keymel said there weren't many plows available because of budget cuts.

"On Saturday we had an hour-and-a-half wait," she said. "Right now, I have an empty restaurant."

In Castaic, just below the closed Grapevine, motorists tried to figure out the best way to get around the problem. They peppered a CHP officer with questions: How do I get to Gorman? one man asked. We're going to Portland, Ore., a woman clutching a wet map told him. When can we get back on the freeway? another motorist asked.

Michael Hernandez, 20, and Diana Reyna, 18, were trying to get to their job in Fresno.

"We're worried we might get fired," Hernandez said.


Times staff writers Catherine Saillant and Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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