Thu, Feb 24, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Soaked Californians brace for more rain

AP , LOS ANGELES

Downtown Los Angeles, top, and Hollywood, right, are visible during a short break in the rain on Tuesday. The region was under a tornado watch on Tuesday, while a new storm was expected to bring more rain yesterday. Southern California is currently experiencing its third wettest season on record.

Californians braced for even more rain as they struggled to recover from storms that have left at least nine people dead, triggered mudslides and tornadoes, and washed away roads and runways.

Among the victims was a Nevada woman caught in an avalanche while cross-country skiing near Lake Tahoe, and a 16-year-old Orange County girl doing homework on a computer when a mudslide crashed through the wall of her home.

In Ventura County, officials closed the small Santa Paula airport on Tuesday after more than 46.5m of runway collapsed into the rushing Santa Clara River. Chunks of concrete crumbled into the water throughout the day.

"We've lost nearly the entire west third of the airport," said Rowena Mason, president of the Santa Paula Airport Association. "This is millions and millions of dollars worth of damage."

Rescues occurred across the state, including a woman who was pulled Tuesday from rushing, waist-high waters of the Rio Hondo River in Montebello.

Forecasters said another strong system expected early yesterday could bring severe winds and drop an additional 3cm or more of rain on Southern California.

Despite brief glimpses of sun, a flash flood watch was in effect across much of Southern California on Tuesday. A tornado warning was also issued for coastal areas.

Authorities said dozens of homes were evacuated or red-tagged -- marked as uninhabitable -- because they threatened to collapse from sliding hillsides.

Mudslides forced Amtrak officials to suspend train service north of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara at least through today.

The wild weather came from a series of storms that began battering the state last Thursday, dumping 20.7cm of rain on downtown Los Angeles.

A total of 84.76cm of rain has fallen in the city since July 1, when California begins its yearly rainfall measurements. The record, 96.98cm, was set in 1883-1884.

Storms have caused US$52.5 million in damage to Los Angeles County roads and facilities since the beginning of the year. The county has spent US$9 million on repairs, including US$500,000 since the weekend, officials said.

Mayor James Hahn asked Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to urge President George W. Bush to issue a federal disaster declaration for the city, which could open the way for federal assistance.

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