LOS ANGELES — Hillside residents fortified their defenses and began fleeing mud-besieged homes Tuesday as fire and police crews staged dramatic water rescues ahead of an even worse storm system expected to hit Southern California in the early hours of Wednesday.
More rain, hail, gusts up to 65 mph and possibly even twisters were forecast. Virtually the entire state has been affected by the storms that began Friday, dumping moisture from far Northern California south to San Diego.
Authorities began evacuations late Tuesday as concern grew about potential mudslides in the wildfire-scarred foothills across the southern part of the state.
Officials ordered evacuation of 232 homes in La Canada Flintridge and La Crescenta, foothill suburbs of Los Angeles, because of forecasts of more heavy rains on already saturated mountainsides.Story: Flood washes away 4 Ariz. homes
San Diego police also ordered evacuations of about a dozen homes in the city's Carmel Valley area and a commuter rail station in Sorrento Valley because of heavy rains, but no damage was reported, police spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown said.
A mudslide closed one street in the La Jolla area of San Diego.
Other inconveniences have so far been relatively minor: Rescuers had to pluck some stranded motorists from rain-swollen creeks. Shoppers dodged puddles while buying last-minute Christmas gifts. Disney resorts canceled a plan to shower visitors with artificial snow.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency in Kern, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Tulare counties, NBC New reported.
"We'll keep our fingers crossed, but the more rain that comes, the possibility of mudslides is definitely real," said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County sheriff's office, which has rescued nine people from the flooding in the past 24 hours.
"We've been lucky so far, but I'm not sure how much longer the luck will hold out," he said.
The National Weather Service predicted an even fiercer storm would roll into Southern California by 2 a.m., bringing 2 to 8 inches of rain in most areas and up to 10 inches in some mountains. Storm conditions are expected to last six to eight hours.
By Tuesday, more than 12 inches of rain already had fallen in parts of the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles, and 13 feet of snow has accumulated at Mammoth Mountain ski resort in the Sierra Nevada.
Mud debris flow detected
A swath of Los Angeles suburbs along the foothills below the steep San Gabriel Mountains are at risk of debris flows — potentially devastating flash floods carrying boulders, trees and soil — after a 2009 wildfire that stripped vegetation off 250 square miles of the Angeles National Forest. More than 40 homes in the foothills were damaged or destroyed during a February storm.
Geologist Susan Cannon said remote monitoring sites in the Station Fire burn area were picking up the beginnings of a debris flow about three feet deep a mile up the Arroyo Seco, a watercourse the flows out of the mountain range. The flow consisted of rocks and mud and vegetation, she said.
If the next wave of the storm creates rainfall of an inch an hour or more, the area could be in danger of a significant mudslides or debris flow, said Cannon, who has studied the risk of a slide at the Station Fire site extensively as an employee of the U.S. Geological Survey.
"It means that once the heaviest rains start, it should be a very active time up there," she said.
Downtown Los Angeles had received 5.77 inches of rain since Friday morning, more than a third of the average annual precipitation.
In Kern County, where authorities evacuated 2,000 residents, a fire department spokesman said 400 to 500 homes were in danger of flooding, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Times reported that December could become Southern California's wettest on record, noting that Los Angeles also experienced its hottest day on record in late September with temperatures hitting 113 degrees F.Weather.com: Get the latest California storm forecasts
'Crush the record'
Bill Patzert, a climatologist for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., warned the worst rain was still to come.
"What we've seen so far is the preliminary event. Tuesday and Wednesday is the main event," he told the Times. "I think we're going to crush the record for December. I think there's going to be a new champ."
Jamie Meier, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, told the Times the region got "a bad rap when it comes to having boring weather."
"But we've had quite a varied season, from record-breaking heat to getting a heavily front-loaded rainfall year," she added.
In Orange County, officials Tuesday rescued four hikers missing since Monday night in a flooded canyon in the Cleveland National Forest. Rescuers used a bulldozer Monday night to retrieve five other people who became stranded by the rain-swollen Trabuco Creek.
In San Bernardino County, a 29-year-old woman was rescued from her pickup truck Monday night after being swept away in a rain-swollen creek.
The Times reported that the woman used her cell phone to call for help when the water filled her cab up to the dashboard.
"She did the right thing. She stayed in her cab and dialed 911," Tracey Martinez, of San Bernardino County Fire Department, told the Times. "It was pretty scary."
"She's very lucky she had cell phone coverage in that area. She is a very fortunate woman," she added.
The paper reported the truck was pushed down the creek for about quarter of a mile, where it got stuck on an island. Rescuers fired a line with a harpoon-like gun, one went across with a helmet and life vest and the woman was pulled to safety nearly four hours after her car was caught in the water.
Outages and other messes
Nearly 21,000 Southern California Edison customers were without power early Tuesday due to the storm.
The hardest-hit area was the city of Torrance, south of Los Angeles, with more than 4,600 outages.
In the Wrightwood area, about 15 people were evacuated Monday night after a creek overflowed and threatened homes. At least three homes sustained water damage.
About 40 residents of the San Joaquin Valley farming community of McFarland were briefly evacuated Monday morning.
Elsewhere, an eight-mile stretch of Highway 1 in Ventura County remained closed Tuesday due to rockslides. Some 20 miles had been shut down Sunday for the same reason. And Highway 1 also was closed for a time in Orange County by a mudslide at Dana Point.
Unaccustomed to driving and dressing for so much rain, Southern California residents tried to go about their business — creeping on the freeways, dodging puddles downtown and doing last minute holiday shopping.
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The rain also dampened vacationers' plans. Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure canceled the daily fireworks and artificial snow that mark the resort's big holiday season, said Suzi Brown, park spokeswoman.
The rain also dampened vacationers' plans. Disneyland, and Disney's California Adventure canceled the daily fireworks and artificial snow that mark the resort's big holiday season, said Suzi Brown, park spokeswoman.
The Affleck family traveled from Queensland, Australia, to vacation in Southern California with their two daughters. On Tuesday, they spent the day doing laundry and drying out their shoes after getting soaked during three days at Disneyland and a day at Universal Studios.
"The rain's been terrible. We still have to make the best of it, but it's hard," said Teresa Affleck, mother of 20-year-old Caitlyn and 17-year-old Heidi. "A lot of the seating and eating areas are outdoors and it's been very wet and cold."
For all the perils of the torrential rains, there was a silver lining: The water is expected to help ease the effects of years of drought. Thursday is expected to be dry, with sunshine. There will be light rain on Christmas Day in parts of California.
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