Evacuations, power outages in Southern California as first in series of storms moves in

Monday, January 18, 2010

Evacuations ordered in Calif. as storms move in

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. — Southern California authorities have ordered the evacuation of more than 100 homes as heavy rains pound a neighborhood just below an area scarred by a massive wildfire last summer.

Authorities fear a number of burn areas could be threatened by mudslides.

Los Angeles County fire Inspector Matt Levesque said Monday that 106 homes in the Paradise Valley area were being evacuated.

Levesque says catch basins designed to keep mud and debris from sliding downhill were full.

Elsewhere, more than 12,000 Southern California residents lost power due the heavy winter storm that could bring up to 1¼ inches of rain an hour.

Two more storms are expected later in the week.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — More than 12,000 Southern California residents lost power Monday due to a heavy winter storm sweeping through the region that threatens to cause mudslides in fire-ravaged areas.

Vanessa McGrady, a spokeswoman with Southern California Edison, said customers in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties were without electricity.

The most affected communities were Arrowhead, Hawthorne, Hesperia and unincorporated Los Angeles County. Outages were also reported the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Residents in Southern California foothill communities were seeing the first of three expected storms this week. Forecasters said some areas could get up to 1¼ inches of rain an hour.

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 the 2008 and 2009 wildfire burn areas in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, including areas scarred by wildfires last year that together scorched more than 253 square miles.

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 at a news conference.

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 100 extra firefighters on duty and 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.

Wet weather was expected in most of the state this week, with up to 10 inches of rain 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.

The U.S. Coast Guard urged boaters and swimmers to avoid taking to the water over the next several days, as forecasters predicted ocean swells could reach 25 feet.

Boaters also were being encouraged to check their mooring and anchor lines to prevent their vessels from coming loose during the storms.

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