Image: Crew members try to remove a fallen oak tree
Christopher Chung  /  AP
Safari West staff members Brian Jellison, left, and Cervando Cornejo work on removing a fallen oak tree on Wednesday. The tree crushed a wood-frame canvas tent and killed a visitor at the wildlife park, east of Santa Rosa, on Tuesday evening.
updated 12/30/2010 10:05:43 AM ET 2010-12-30T15:05:43

Cold blasts of wind hit California on Wednesday in the trail of a storm that dumped more rain and snow on the soggy state but failed to trigger significant new mudflows.

One person was killed by a falling tree and a snowboarder was missing, power outages were scattered around the state and some roads and highways were closed, but the region escaped widespread problems in the two-day round of foul weather.

Chilly wind gusts of more than 40 mph hit northern Los Angeles County as the low pressure system that brought the storm moved east, and forecasters warned that the night would allow even colder air and higher winds that could down power lines and topple trees rooted in saturated soil.

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An expected drop of snow levels to low elevations also posed a threat to highway travel over mountain passes.

Meanwhile, communities east and south of Los Angeles that were hit hard by runoff in a dayslong series of storms last week were able to focus on cleaning up without additional new damage.

Rain was lighter than expected in Highland in San Bernardino County, where 50 homes remain evacuated after being swamped by a pre-Christmas mudflow and more than 100,000 sandbags had been used to build walls to keep more muck out of the community.

"We haven't had any hard downpours," said Jodi Miller, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

The outcome was also positive in Laguna Beach, the scenic Orange County enclave that sustained $10 million in damage when storm runoff inundated part of its downtown last week.

"All the drains are working, no flooding, no new mudslides," said police Lt. Jason Kravetz. "We'll go back to clean up."

Also Wednesday, Acting Gov. Abel Maldonado sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for a major disaster declaration for the state. Maldonado said the damage wrought by 10 days of bruising storms were too much for state and local governments to handle.

The rain and heavy wind that swept through Northern California on Tuesday were blamed for the death of a woman camping with her 7-year-old granddaughter at a wildlife preserve in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco.

A 100-foot oak tree came down on Gayle Falgoust's tent at the Safari West Wildlife Preserve near Santa Rosa round 9 p.m. Tuesday, authorities and preserve officials said.

"It was so stormy and windy. It was just a very cruel winter day," said Aphrodite Caserta, spokeswoman for Safari West.

The granddaughter, who was also in the tent at the time, was not hurt.

The girl's father and his son were in a neighboring tent when they heard the tree come down and screams, sheriff's Capt. Matt McCaffrey told KGO-TV. They used scissors to cut through the canvas and pull the 7-year-old out.

In the snow-laden Sierra Nevada, Placer County search teams combed the Alpine Meadows Ski Resort at Lake Tahoe for Shawnte Marie Willis, who apparently became separated from friends while snowboarding Tuesday afternoon. Willis, 25, was last seen snowboarding through ski boundary signs near the top of an advanced slope, resort spokeswoman Rachel Woods told the Sacramento Bee.

Chains or snow tires were required on U.S. Interstate 80 and all other mountain roads. The California Highway Patrol said they may close parts of I-80 in the Sierra Wednesday night.

Reno police reported more than a dozen accidents before the evening rush hour began and a dozen flights were delayed at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

The Nevada side of the Sierra saw wind gusts up to 100 mph, more than a foot of new snow and fears of avalanches on Wednesday.

The wind and snow caused power outages at Tahoe, flight delays in Reno and travel troubles on most area highways. The California Highway Patrol held traffic periodically along U.S. Highway 50 southwest of Tahoe due to avalanche concerns.

More than 10,000 homes and businesses were without power around Lake Tahoe most of Wednesday and about 8,000 were still in the dark at nightfall.

NV Energy spokesman Karl Walquist said crews were working to repair power lines that were downed overnight by high winds and tree limbs snapping under the weight of heavy snow.

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About 152,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers across Northern California lost power during Tuesday night's storm, which knocked out electricity to the most homes and businesses along the northern coast around Humboldt County, said utility spokesman Joe Molica.

Crews were working to restore power to the 6,500 customers still without power around midday Wednesday, he said.

Southern California Edison had 5,050 customers without power Wednesday and many, but not all, outages were storm-related, said spokesman Paul Klein.

Among road problems left by the storm, Highway 1 was closed at points along the coast due to flooding or rock slides.

The same storm system prompted a blizzard warning through Thursday night for mountainous areas of eastern Arizona, while rain drenched the lower desert Wednesday, causing dozens of drivers to slide off slippery highways.


Associated Press writers Gillian Flaccus in Orange County, Haven Daley in Sonoma County, Sudhin Thanawala and Terry Collins in San Francisco and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Wild weather wreaks havoc out West

  1. Transcript of: Wild weather wreaks havoc out West

    LESTER HOLT, co-host: Now to the West Coast and the wild weather there. Even more snow, rain and damaging winds on the heels of last week's string of devastating storms. NBC 's Kristen Welker is in Lake Tahoe , Nevada , for us this morning. Kristen , good morning.

    KRISTEN WELKER reporting: Good morning to you, Lester . With parts of the West still getting pounded by this latest winter storm , there is a desperate search under way here in Lake Tahoe for a 25-year-old snowboarder who was last seen on Tuesday. It all underscores just how massive this system has been. The winter weather that has been wreaking havoc throughout the West delivered another blow Wednesday. Snow and wind in the Sierra Nevadas has left more than 10,000 homes and businesses without power around Lake Tahoe , the storm hampering the search for a missing snowboarder.

    Unidentified Man: It's been very difficult. The blizzard conditions, heavy snow, the heavy winds, it's -- there are no tracks that we can find.

    WELKER: Heavy snow and icy roads make travel tough in Spokane , Washington , as the storm dropped seven inches of snow. Blizzard conditions blew through the Palouse region. In Arizona , the Department of Public Safety received more than 100 calls reporting slide-offs in a three hour period. Visibility in Jackson Hole , Wyoming , was just over a mile when an American Airlines flight slid off the runway. There were no injuries, according to the FAA . In Santa Rosa , California , a grandmother was killed when a tree fell on her while her granddaughter played just feet away. Heavy rain pounded Southern California 's already saturated streets. This, after a week of wet weather that caused mudslides so damaging, about 100 residents had to be evacuated in the Highland area, some homes completely destroyed.

    Ms. MARIA LEDFORD: Never seen it do anything like this before.

    WELKER: Maria Ledford worries this latest system could cause the huge hill next to her house to collapse.

    Ms. LEDFORD: I'm afraid. Everyone here is keeping their fingers crossed and their toes hoping that we won't get too much more rain.

    WELKER: Crews shored up homes like the Ledford 's, placing 150,000 sandbags throughout the area and they cleaned out the debris from storm basins.

    Mr. BILL PETERS (Cal Fire): The biggest concern right now is keeping the debris basins low enough to handle whatever flows out of the mountains so that it doesn't come down into the city.

    WELKER: A rockslide rattled nerves and closed part of Highway 99 in Oregon City . Communities throughout the West dealing with a wintry punch heading into the new year. Now this storm has moved out of the Lake Tahoe region. It is moving eastward, but it left behind about two feet of snow and frigid temperatures. It is 10 degrees right now where I'm standing and the wind chill makes it feel much colder than that. But despite these challenging weather conditions, searchers will be back out looking for that missing snowboarder as soon as the sun comes


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