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Cleanup begins after powerful storm slams Southern California

Cleanup was beginning across Southern California on Saturday after a storm that forecasters billed as the most powerful in years caused flooding on multiple freeways, triggered dramatic mudslides and downed hundreds of trees and power lines.

The storm was moving out Saturday after dumping record rain in some areas and leaving havoc in its wake. Preliminary 48-hour rainfall totals through 5 a.m. Saturday include 2.05 inches in downtown Los Angeles, 2.77 in Long Beach, 4.19 in Woodland Hills and 4.83 in Malibu Canyon, according to the National Weather Service.

Tens of thousands of Los Angeles County residents remained without power on Saturday, while road crews scrambled to repair sinkholes throughout the area, including one in Studio City that swallowed two vehicles Friday night. No one was injured in that incident.

Live updates: Strongest storm in years moves into L.A. area »

Evacuation orders were lifted early Saturday in Duarte, where mudflows threatened dozens of homes Friday night. The city erected concrete and wood barriers to protect neighborhoods after wildfires last summer made the area vulnerable to mudslides. 

All lanes were reopened on the 5 Freeway in the Sun Valley area after heavy flooding caused a shutdown that lasted through early Saturday morning, the California Highway Patrol said.

Also Saturday, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power crews were scrambling to restore service to about 50,000 customers, down from about 82,000 customers Friday afternoon. Some of the hardest hit areas that remain without power were Lincoln Heights, Koreatown, East Hollywood and Harvard Heights.

“There was a lot of downed wires, and that kind of operation does take time,” said L.A. Department of Water and Power spokeswoman Kim Hughes. “We’re working as quickly ... as possible, with safety in mind.”

In Ventura County, authorities recovered the body of an unidentified man who was swept away in the Arroyo Conejo Creek in Thousand Oaks on Friday. The man, described as being in his 20s, was hiking with three other friends along the creek when it began to swell, authorities said.

Three of the men were rescued about 2:45 p.m. Friday, and authorities continued their search for the fourth man until about 8:30 p.m. due to weather conditions, officials said.

The search resumed Saturday morning, with Sheriff’s Department aviation officers locating the man in the river bottom around 8:45 a.m., said Ventura County sheriff’s Det. Tim Lohman.

In Orange County, Santa Ana police rescued four people from the Santa Ana River, authorities said. Officers arrived at the scene near 1st Street about 12:30 p.m. Saturday and managed to pull three people out of the water, including an 8-year-old child, the child’s mother and a male adult, who had jumped into the water to rescue the woman and her child.

Police learned that a 12-year-old boy was also missing, but officers managed to located the child uninjured near 5th Street and the river, authorities said. The woman told police that she and her two children had fallen into the water, but no other details were available.

Meanwhile, Amtrak suspended service Saturday morning between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo because of mudslides in the Santa Barbara area, officials said.

A spokesman said service could resume Saturday night.

“Due to mudslides and other weather related factors, we have crews out there now removing debris from the tracks,” Union Pacific Railroad spokesman Justin Jacobs said in an email. “We will follow up with inspections once debris removal is complete to ensure they are safe to resume operations and then hope to restore service.”

Friday’s storm arrived with wind gusts that topped 80 mph in some parts of Los Angeles County and intense bursts of heavy rain, a potent combination that at one point Friday evening had forced closures on more than half a dozen major freeways and highways around the region.

The deluge created surreal scenes: cars trapped by rising waters along the 5 and 110 freeways, churning mudflows ripping through canyon and high-desert roads, and a massive landslide in the San Bernardino Mountains captured on video.

In San Bernardino County, two lanes of the southbound 15 Freeway near Highway 13 in the Cajon Pass remained closed after a section of the road weakened by rushing water collapsed, toppling a firetruck into the creek below.

A crew of three firefighters was driving in the lane closest to the shoulder around 8:30 p.m. Friday when they felt the engine’s back tires sinking into the roadway, San Bernardino County Fire Capt. Mike McClintock said. The crew managed to escape before the road gave way.

In the San Fernando Valley, two cars fell into a giant sinkhole. One occupant was briefly trapped but was rescued unharmed by Los Angeles firefighters.

Maggie Prvinic, who lives near the sinkhole, was out grocery shopping with her 5-year-old son when the first car fell into the hole. She was stunned to find the road blocked off and crowds of people surrounding her street when they returned home.

“It was dark, around 8:30, and we heard the choppers, we thought it was just electricity issues,” she said.

She said she was looking out the window of her family’s second-floor apartment when the second car fell into the sinkhole.  

“I saw the car go inside and I was wondering if anyone was inside it. I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, is it just a parked car?’ ” Prvinic recalled.

Prvinic, who is expecting another child in two weeks, said she was concerned that the sinkhole might threaten her apartment building. “Do I need to evacuate? I’m scared the ground is fragile and the sinkhole will expand,” she said.

City officials said the sinkhole, at Woodbridge Street and Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Studio City, was probably caused by a combination of excessive rain and a possible sewer failure.

City crews and emergency contractors were working Saturday to shore up the sinkhole, which could take several days to repair.

Laurel Canyon Boulevard remains closed between Moorpark Street and Valley Spring Lane, and Woodbridge Street is closed east of Laurel Canyon. Drivers are advised to avoid the area.

At least four fatalities have been attributed to the storm.

A 55-year-old man was electrocuted by a downed power line Friday in Sherman Oaks on Sepulveda Boulevard just south of Burbank Boulevard.

In Victorville, where many motorists were stranded on flooded streets, rescuers found a person dead inside a submerged vehicle, according to the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

Two passengers died in separate crashes on rain-slick Interstate 15 in Mira Mesa and City Heights on Friday, the CHP said.

The drivers involved in the collisions were suspected of driving too fast in the rain, CHP Officer Jake Sanchez said. “In these types of conditions, speed plays a huge factor because if you drive fast it’s very easy to lose control,” he said.

In a sign of the power of the winds, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to more than 150 reports of downed electrical wires. Authorities urged the public to stay away from power lines and avoid touching any person or thing that has come into contact with one.

More than 100,000 people across Southern California lost power.

There also were multiple swift-water rescues. Several homeless people were rescued along the Los Angeles River, while in the Inland Empire, firefighters plucked motorists stranded in floodwaters.

Evacuation orders were issued Friday for areas where brush fires hit last summer, with officials worried about the potential for mudslides.

Among the areas evacuated was a section of Duarte.

But some residents, like Mike Shane, decided to remain.

Shane started hearing mud flow down his street on Opal Canyon Road on Friday night. “It sounded like a rushing river,” he said.

But he never considered leaving his home, despite the city’s evacuation order. He’s lived in the area 17 years and has seen his share of mudslides, he said.

“There’s no need to go," said Shane as he stood in front of his house Saturday morning and watched as crews scooped up the thin layer of mud that covered his sidewalk. “I want to be here with my house and dog.”

Shane’s neighbor Rochelle Carpio, standing next to him in white-and-pink pajamas, nodded in agreement.

Carpio and her husband, Yvan, said that this storm wasn’t as bad as previous ones but that in general, they usually don’t listen to evacuation orders.

The Carpio family did, however, have an escape car packed with their 4-month-old baby’s essentials and emergency food in case they had to leave immediately. They said their property isn’t damaged.

About a block away, Cecilia Cruz was bent over her flowers, lifting the sandbags that had guarded them from Friday’s rains. Her hands and shoes were covered in thick mud as she worked.

Cruz went outside at 7:30 a.m. and didn’t find any damage to her house. Previous mudslides from the month prior have been worse, said Cruz, who has lived in the area for eight years.

“The tractors do a good job and are able to remove the mud,” she said, pointing to the layer of wet dirt that covered her drive

The Duarte evacuation order was lifted Saturday morning.

But on Friday night, it was a different scene. The street adjacent to Valley View Elementary School was overflowing with mud, rock and other debris.

As night fell, Austin Fuentes and his mother, Susan, heard the mudslide outside their front door.

“When we started getting heavy rain, we heard the mud flowing outside our house. You hear rocks tumbling and water rushing,” he said. “We’re just crossing our fingers we don’t have to clean up much more mud.”

Fuentes’ father and grandparents evacuated and were staying at a hotel just to be on the safe side.

“My grandparents have heart issues, and we felt it was safer for both of them not to be here,” Fuentes added.

In the San Bernardino County mountains, a landslide the size of three football fields threatened several homes, a fire station and a major road used by hundreds of residents, fire officials said.

Four homes and a San Bernardino County fire station in the unincorporated community of Forest Falls were directly in the path of the hillside, which started moving about 10 a.m. Thursday, fire spokesman Eric Sherwin said.

Two homes were vacant, and residents in the other two homes voluntarily evacuated. Fire officials have removed equipment from the station to protect it from damage, he said.

San Bernardino County road crews were placing concrete barriers along the drive to help divert mud and debris, he said.

Snow levels were anticipated to be 8,000 feet Friday night, lowering to 6,000 feet on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Because of the heavy precipitation, 1 to 2 feet of snow could fall above 8,000 feet in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and 6 to 12 inches above 6,000 feet.

Coastal waters will be dangerous through the weekend. High waves off the coast of Los Angeles County are expected to peak Saturday at 8 to 13 feet.

After a brief respite Sunday, another storm system is expected to move into the region on Monday, bringing several more days of rain, forecasters said.

sonali.kohli@latimes.com

melissa.etehad@latimes.com

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

ALSO

Some Duarte residents stayed home despite evacuation orders 

Portion of southbound 15 Freeway collapses in the Cajon Pass 

Some mighty trees were no match for those winds 

 


UPDATES:

5:15 p.m.: This article was updated with new information about a Ventura County drowning victim.

4:10 p.m.: This article was updated with new comments from utility and Amtrak officials.

3:50 p.m.: This article was updated with new details about power outages and a rescue in Santa Ana.

1:10 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from a witness at a sinkhole in Studio City.

12:25 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from a witness about the sinkhole in Studio City and from city officials about its possible cause.

11:35 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from residents in Duarte who refused to evacuate.

This article was originally published at 9:30 a.m.

An earlier version of this article said Long Beach had recorded 2.17 inches of rain in the 48 hours through 5 a.m. Saturday. It should have said 2.77 inches.
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