Storm that pounded Calif lingers over Ariz, sweeping away 6-year-old boy, flooding community

By Jacques Billeaud, AP
Friday, January 22, 2010

Storm lingers over Ariz. after battering Calif.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The remnants of the biggest storm to hit Arizona in nearly two decades lingered over the state Friday after drenching California, while authorities in both states continued to tally the damage.

In Arizona, flooding swept through small towns, caused a train derailment and closed major interstates. Snow collapsed roofs in the northern part of the state. Meanwhile, searchers looked for a 6-year-old boy swept away late Thursday in a flood.

Searchers spent Friday looking for the boy, who was caught in rising waters about 70 miles north of Phoenix. Dwight D’Evelyn, a Yavapai County sheriff’s spokesman, said the boy was presumed dead.

Three others died in vehicle accidents this week — two on Interstate 40 east of Flagstaff and one in Phoenix — as a series of storms moved through the state. At least two people were killed by trees toppled by high winds in California in recent days.

In Southern California, hundreds of evacuees were allowed to return home Friday as a week of lightning, vicious downpours and tornadoes dissipated into occasional thunderstorms. Still tens of thousands of people remained without power throughout the state. In Southern California, more than 15,000 Edison customers remained without power Friday.

Flood control channels remained swollen and swift despite the drop in rainfall. In one dramatic rescue Friday afternoon, a dog was hoisted from the Los Angeles River by helicopter after trying to scramble up the steep concrete sides for more than an hour.

The storms pushed through California and into Arizona on Monday dumping more than 4½ feet of snow in the Flagstaff area, 2 inches of rain in Phoenix, 3 inches of rain in Yuma and 5 inches of rain in Sedona.

The storms also drenched Las Vegas, where more rain hit this week than in all of 2009. By Friday, 1.69 inches of rain had fallen in Las Vegas. The valley ended 2009 with 1.59 inches of rain.

Southern Arizona saw wind gusts of up to 80 mph, and the mountains received between 2 and 5 feet of snow, forecasters said.

“This was a high-impact event,” said Brian Klimowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Flagstaff. “It was a storm that impacted all of Arizona with flooding and very heavy snow, certainly ranking in the top five of all-time snow or rain events for the state.”

Forecasts called for rain to continue Friday evening in the Phoenix area.

In western Arizona, a 2-foot surge of runoff flooded streets and an unknown number of homes early Friday in Wenden, a community of 500 people located about 100 miles west of Phoenix. The high waters also stranded seven hikers in Yavapai County, who were considered safe.

Travel in northern Arizona was severely restricted with the closures of the main routes between Phoenix and Flagstaff.

Across metropolitan Phoenix, downed trees blocked driveways, and palm fronds and other debris from the storm littered the streets. A teenager died after the vehicle he was in lost control while traveling through water Thursday afternoon on a Phoenix street.

In Prescott, downed trees were blocking roadways and some homes had 3 to 4 inches of rain inside after a prominent creek reached historically high levels, said city spokesman Kim Kapin.

Nearby in Mayer, the missing boy was swept away as his family tried to take him to a hospital for treatment. Floodwaters disabled their truck and pushed it off the road. The mother made it to higher ground, but the father and two children were swept away after getting into the truck’s bed.

The father managed to get to safety with his daughter, but the boy remained missing Friday and is presumed dead, D’Evelyn said.

In Wenden, flooding from the storm receded late Thursday but more water returned several hours later when a surge of runoff came through a nearby wash, said Lt. Glenn Gilbert, a spokesman for the La Paz County Sheriff’s Office. Several busloads of people were evacuated from their homes in Wenden and taken to a high school five miles away in Salome.

“They’re going to see their homes muddied up and basically destroyed,” said Gregory Palma, who owns a gas station and is chief of the local volunteer fire department. “They’ll just move back in and rip off their dry wall and do what they gotta do.”

Rain continued falling northeast of town and officials were monitoring the runoff moving toward Wenden.

At least three trailer parks near Black Canyon City were evacuated late Thursday and early Friday due to the rising Agua Fria River. Captain Jason Tilson with the Black Canyon Fire District, said most people were back home by midday Friday assessing the damage. Up to 6 feet of water rushed through at least one of the trailer parks, he said.

Residents in Sedona escaped much-anticipated flooding when Oak Creek crested around 12 feet below what was expected.

“That was Mother Nature giving us a break,” said Sedona Fire District spokesman Gary Johnson. He added the potential for flooding exists with the runoff from heavy snow north of the resort town.

At a Los Angeles news conference, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, citing county estimates of 124 homes damaged by the storm and costs of more than $11 million for emergency response, building damage and debris cleanup.

On Thursday, states of emergency were declared for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco and Siskiyou counties.

The declarations will allow the counties to obtain state reimbursement for much of their damage and cleanup costs, although state officials said it was unlikely that the damage was serious enough for them to qualify for federal emergency aid.

Repairs crews, meanwhile, worked around the clock to restore power to thousands left in the dark when lashing wind and falling trees knocked down power lines.

Billeaud reported from Phoenix. Associated Press Writer Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix, and John Rogers in Los Angeles contributed to this report;.

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