Evacuations ordered in Calif. as storm moves in

Jan 18 2010 - 7:32pm

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. -- Authorities ordered the evacuation of more than 100 Southern California homes Monday as heavy rains pounded a neighborhood just below an area scarred by a massive wildfire.

Officials feared a number of foothill areas along the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles could be threatened by mudslides.

Los Angeles County fire Inspector Matt Levesque said 106 homes in the Paradise Valley area of La Canada Flintridge were being evacuated after a catch basin filled with sliding mud and debris.

The area was the scene of the Station Fire last summer that scorched about 250 square miles of Angeles National Forest.

Olivia Brown stood outside her home in driving rain and exchanged information with her neighbors.

"We are already packed and ready to go," she said, adding that most people would probably heed the orders to leave.

Elsewhere, more than 12,000 residents lost power due the heavy winter storm that could bring up to 1 1/4 inches of rain an hour.

Earlier in the day, a plane flying from Dallas to San Francisco made an emergency landing at San Jose International Airport because of the storm.

American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner said the captain reported encountering a powerful gust of wind as the plane began its descent to San Francisco International Airport.

Two more storms were expected to hit California later in the week.

The areas most affected by the power outages were Arrowhead, Hawthorne, Hesperia and unincorporated Los Angeles County, said Vanessa McGrady, a spokeswoman with Southern California Edison.

Problems were also reported in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles. A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power did not return repeated calls.

No major damage was reported despite rain that intensified through the day. The first storm was expected to drop 3 to 6 inches of rain in Southern California and 8 inches in the San Francisco area.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch in burn areas in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The agency also issued a wind advisory in areas northeast of Los Angeles, with gusts up to 70 mph. Winds up to 35 mph were forecast in parts of Northern California.

Authorities urged residents living below fire-damaged hillsides to obey any evacuation orders. They said they were ready for mudslides and debris flows six times as severe as the one in La Conchita in 2005 that killed 10 people along California's central coast.

"We are begging you to leave when you're ordered. These debris flows can be deadly, and if you stay you may not only be risking yourself and your family, but you may be risking the first responders who have to go in and rescue you as well," Los Angeles County fire Chief Mike Metro said.

In preparation, crews have handed out 30,000 sandbags and built 10,000 feet of concrete barriers in foothill communities near burn areas, said Bob Spencer, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

Metro said his department had 150 search and rescue personnel ready despite sending 75 members to Haiti to help with earthquake relief.

Authorities have also consulted with 500 homeowners in burn areas to give them advice on how to best protect their homes. Horse racing was canceled at Santa Anita Park due to the heavy rains.

Forecasters said storms lasting through at least Friday could drop 20 inches of rain inland and 8 inches along the coast and in the valleys of Southern California. Ten inches of rain was predicted for the San Francisco Bay area.

"If it progresses as anticipated, at the end, we will probably have to go back 10 years or more to find a system of equal rainfall and intensity," NWS forecaster Bob Benjamin said.

Snow could fall in the Sierra foothills as low as 3,000 feet, boosting a depleted snowpack but making travel hazardous.


Associated Press Writers Gillian Flaccus in Los Angeles and Louise Chu in San Francisco contributed to this report.


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