Don Kuhli collects his belongings after a mud slide filled his apartment.
Fred Greaves  /  Reuters
Don Kuhli collects his belongings Wednesday after a mudslide filled his apartment in San Diego, forcing him to move out.
updated 2/23/2005 10:15:11 PM ET 2005-02-24T03:15:11

The sun began poking through the clouds Wednesday as California emergency crews shifted into cleanup mode after a six-day drenching that killed at least nine people, destroyed dozens of houses and flooded roads and airports.

The Transportation Department hurried to clear at least 20 major roads closed by mudslides and flooding, and in Malibu, crews prepared to destroy a boulder the size of a house that dangled precariously above the Pacific Coast Highway, held back by only a retaining wall. Crews also worked to fill thousands of potholes — some the size of cars.

Engineers fanned out across Los Angeles to assess whether houses on slipping soil were still habitable. More than 100 homes were temporarily uninhabitable or safe only for limited entry.

Los Angeles city fire spokesman Brian Humphrey said some ambulance crews had been diverted to work as reconnaissance teams to spot signs of flooding and mudslides.

Firefighters, meanwhile, were working 24-hour shifts with little time to eat or even use the restroom. On Monday, the heaviest day of rain, the department received nearly 2,000 calls — twice the normal amount, Humphrey said.

Rain fell early in the day Wednesday across part of Southern California but began to taper off as the storm’s center headed east along the California-Mexico border.

The storms began last Thursday, bringing 9.14 inches by Wednesday morning to a city where the average for an entire year is about 15 inches. Damage in Los Angeles County alone since Jan. 1 was estimated at $52.5 million, including up to $10 million in damage caused by the latest storm.

In Ventura County, the small Santa Paula airport remained closed after more than 155 feet of runway crumbled into the rushing Santa Clara River. Mudslides forced Amtrak to suspend train service between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara through at least Thursday.

Among those killed were a man who was driving when a eucalyptus tree fell on his pickup truck in San Diego County and a 16-year-old girl who was doing homework in an apartment bedroom when boulders hit her home near Irvine.

Rainfall since July 1, when California begins its yearly rainfall measurements, now totals 34.36 inches — more than Seattle or Portland and the most in Los Angeles since 1889-90. The record for a single year — 38.18 inches — was set in 1883-84.

South of the border in Tijuana, Mexico, authorities reported at least seven homes had collapsed in landslides and more than 150 people were evacuated.

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