Video: Drenched California deals with storm's aftermath

  1. Closed captioning of: Drenched California deals with storm's aftermath

    >>> pelting southern california tonight have left a new problem, mudslides. hundreds of homes have been evacuated or destroyed. trash and pesticides are leaking into waterways and closing beaches. despite the return of sunshine today, the region is struggling to clean up two days before christmas . nbc's miguel almaguer is in highland, california tonight. miguel , good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening. the city was a bull's-eye for the storm, a river of mud flowed right through this neighborhood. tonight, it's still several feet deep. although the weather and rain have past, it may return. highland is a devastated city just before christmas . fire crews were shoveling to help residents get in their homes. ramone perez feels lucky his house was spared. he's helping neighbors.

    >> look at the devastation, this close to christmas .

    >> reporter: there's still a mudslide threat to 140 homes under a saturated ground. but for 26 houses, the damage is done.

    >> at first, i seen a rush of water and mud. by the time i knew it, we were engulfed.

    >> reporter: karen hernandez escaped, but lost her beloved dog. today, she won't go into more home.

    >> i haven't looked inside. i didn't want to look inside. i'm sorry.

    >> reporter: she raised her two children, freddie and erica, here for 15 years.

    >> the christmas tree was in the corner, along with the kid's gifts. their graduation pictures were on the wall. i was so very proud of them. they worked so hard. their diplomas are gone, everything.

    >> reporter: her husband, al, a salesman, was working during the storm. he needed to see inside.

    >> we're kneeling down and touching the sealing. that's just incredible.

    >> reporter: elsewhere, mudslides weren't the only concern. in palmdale, motorists had to be rescue when the river overfloed. along the coast, 12 miles of beaches were closed. at qualcomm stadium , ground crews worked around the clock to clean the grounds before tonight's poinsettia bowl . officials say it will be weeks before it's cleaned up and life returns to normal.

    >> we got them a tree and we scraped up enough money to get them a little bit of gifts and now those are gone, too. but that's okay, because we've got our lives.

    >> reporter: and everyone did escape with their lives. still, neighbors aren't just cleaning up tonight, but prepping for the next storm that will likely hit here christmas night. but carl, it's not expected to pack as powerful a punch.

    >> miguel almaguer joining us from highland, california tonight. staff and news service reports
updated 12/23/2010 7:01:02 PM ET 2010-12-24T00:01:02

As damage estimates ranging from $17 million in one neighborhood to $60 million in a farm area started to roll in, many victims of the California flooding and mudslides faced the prospect of not being able to spend Christmas at home.

The storm's push across the West left a muddy mess across Southern California and the threat of avalanches in Nevada, where Clark County officials urged residents of Mount Charleston, near Las Vegas, to leave after snow slides near two mountain hamlets.

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The inland region of Southern California east of Los Angeles was emerging as among the hardest-hit areas, especially San Bernardino County, where a sea of mud destroyed five homes and damaged 70 in the community of Highland.

People were literally chased from their homes by walls of mud and water in Highland, leaving behind dwellings strung with holiday lights.

They returned Thursday to find some homes with Christmas presents under the tree, inundated with mud several feet deep.

Leslie Constante burst into tears when she approached her parents' house and saw a red tag slapped on the garage, meaning authorities had deemed it unsafe to enter. Out front, a display with two holiday reindeer was enveloped in mud several feet deep.

"My mom and dad worked so hard for this," said Constante, wearing knee high rubber boots and a rain jacket. The 29-year-old pharmacy technician couldn't get inside to see how bad the damage was to Christmas presents and other belongings.

Image: Man removes items from muddy car
Alex Gallardo  /  Reuters
John Regalado, Jr., retrieves items from his mud-swamped car outside his homee in Highland, Calif., on Thursday.

Ibeth Garcia and her family returned to a home surrounded by mud 4 feet deep to retrieve Christmas presents and clothes left behind when they fled a dirty torrent.

"We left with just our shoes, cell phones and car keys," said Garcia, 26. "We didn't have time for anything else."

They found just a light coating of mud inside the house and considered themselves lucky, as some of their neighbors' homes were uninhabitable.

Highland officials estimated the storm caused $17.2 million damage to homes, cars and a bridge that was washed away.

Image: Mud around car
Michael Young
Michael Young of Loma Linda, Calif., submitted this photo of a mud-covered neighborhood on Wednesday.

As residents surveyed their homes, work crews were busy trying to reopen more than a dozen canyon and mountain roads that were closed by slides and floods. Reopening times were listed simply as "unknown" for most of them.

"There's a lot of road damage," said San Bernardino County fire spokeswoman Tracey Martinez. "The whole county received quite a bit of damage."

In neighboring Riverside County, the damage estimate was nearing $30 million.

Numerous motorists were rescued from swamped cars during the days of rain, but one driver was killed. The body of Angela Wright, 39, was recovered from a car that was swept off a flooded road Wednesday in Riverside County. Get the latest Christmas forecasts

While the rain had given way to only partly cloudy skies Thursday, the danger was not over for foothill residents living below wildfire-scarred hillsides. The National Weather Service is reporting that less-intense rain is likely to resume on Sunday and could hit Los Angeles again as early as Christmas Day.

"The ground is so saturated it could move at any time" and the threat will remain for several weeks, said Bob Spencer, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the town of Green Valley Lake, population 800, in the San Bernardino Mountains had been effectively cut off by flooding and rock slides, with California Highways 18 and 330 both closed.

More than 200 homes were ordered evacuated for more than 24 hours in La Canada-Flintridge and La Crescenta, suburbs of Los Angeles below steep hillsides that burned in 2009 and where mudslides inundated homes and backyards in February. Evacuations ended Wednesday night.

Video: Mudslide survivor: ‘We have nothing left’ (on this page)

Sewers overflow into bays
Despite the return of sunshine Thursday, officials said Californians may want to resist the urge to head to the ocean.

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The rain washed trash, pesticides and bacteria into waterways and prompted health warnings. Four beaches were closed in Northern California's San Mateo County, and another 12 miles of beach from Laguna Beach to San Clemente in Southern California's Orange County were off-limits because of sewer overflows.

"It can be very nice the next day and everyone says 'This is great! This is a beach day,'" said Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles county public health department. "It could well be but we will be monitoring and testing water and we won't recommend people go back there until we're sure it's safe."

Experts normally recommend waiting 72 hours after a storm before getting in the water, though in this case some are saying five days might be wiser. The contamination in some areas could last for weeks because of the especially heavy rains.

Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, a Santa Monica-based group that monitors and grades beach water quality, said rain causes more pollution to get flushed into the region's system of storm drains, channels and rivers that carry runoff to the sea.

"Literally every beach gets an 'F' when we get a rain storm like this," he said. "It's big enough to pollute each and every beach in LA County. It's a pretty extraordinary event when we have rain like this."

Curtis Duran, 45 and his two children Max and Ava strolled the trash-strewn beach in Long Beach on Thursday and surveyed debris carried down to the shoreline by the Los Angeles River.

Cans, baseballs, plastic bottles and even baby's high chair sat on the sand mixed in with piles of discarded wood and shards of plastic. Ava, 5, picked up a deflated red ball and showed it to her dad.

"We come down here all the time and I've never seen so much," said Curtis Duran.

Interactive: Recent storms; how mudslides form (on this page)

Orange County and San Diego were also hard hit.

Sixty people were rescued and more than 30 homes evacuated Wednesday when water surged through Dove Canyon, a gated Orange County community.

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In San Diego, the first floor of the Premier Inn in the city's Mission Valley flooded, forcing guests to the second floor where lifeguards were sent to rescue them, police said. SeaWorld San Diego closed for the day as waters rose in the nearby San Diego River, but it was expected to reopen on Thursday.

Heavy rain severely eroded soil under train tracks in northern San Diego, canceling Amtrak and commuter rail service at least through Christmas weekend.

Farther north, in the Central Valley agricultural region, Tulare County officials said farms and dairies had been hard hit by flooding. About 300 homes were damaged, and 25 roads remained closed.

Allison Lambert, information officer for health and human services, said some preliminary damage estimates ranged beyond $60 million.

About 25 homes sustained damage in Kern County at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, and a highway through the Kern River canyon was expected to remain closed through the end of the year after "truck-sized rocks" were washed onto it, fire spokesman Sean Collins said.

The storm weakened as it moved eastward, but floods still washed away six vacant homes and damaged nearly two dozen others in the Beaver Dam area of northwest Arizona, and inundated parts of Nevada and Utah. The low-pressure system could reach the Gulf Coast by Saturday with some rain, forecasters said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: California storm causes widespread flooding and mudslides

loading photos...
  1. Ralph Lopez looks at the remains of his car covered in mud at this home in Highland, Calif., east of Los Angeles on Thursday, Dec. 23. (Nick Ut / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Silverado Canyon in Orange County was among the hardest-hit areas in the storm that drenched Southern California on Wednesday, Dec. 22. Canyon residents Bob Lee and Rick Schaeffer work to prevent a van from going into a river. Storm runoff and mud prompted the evacuation of about 30 people in the area. (Alex Gallardo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. This road into Silverado Canyon was among the dozens cut off on Wednesday throughout Orange County. (Nick Ut / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The Christmas tree installed at the pier in Santa Barbara, Calif., came down in the storm Wednesday. (Spencer Weiner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A storm-swollen Los Angeles River is seen on Wednesday in the San Fernando section of Los Angeles. (Damian Dovarganes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Umbrellas in hand, pedestrians stroll on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood on Wednesday. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oliva Brown, who spent the night at an emergency center, gets ready to leave after the mandatory evacuation order in her neighborhood was lifted in La Canada-Flintridge, Calif., on Wednesday. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Runoff from Laguna Canyon floods the streets of downtown Laguna Beach, Calif., on Wednesday. Heavy rains flooded the area with up to four feet of mud. (Paul Buck / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A woman looks out over the eroded beach near downtown Laguna Beach on Wednesday. (Paul Buck / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Workers shovel mud onto the Pacific Coast Highway from the entrance to the Laguna Cinemas in Laguna Beach, Calif., on Wednesday. (Denis Poroy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Katharine Story sweeps mud and water from her clothing store in Laguna Beach on Wednesday. (Paul Buck / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A worker at the Angeles National Golf Club tries to unplug clogged drains on the driving range on Wednesday. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Ross Gill and Veronica Valeriano get a look at several boats that washed ashore on Wednesday in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Spencer Weiner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Ralph Voehl delivers sandbags to protect the home of a neighbor in Modjeska Canyon, near Laguna Beach, on Wednesday. (Alex Gallardo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Raindrops frame a warning sign near Santa Barbara on Wednesday.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: The sign appears upside down because the light refracts through the rain drops like a lens. (Spencer Weiner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Interactive: Recent storms; how mudslides form


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