A howling snowstorm careened across Southern California early today, blotting out the state's main north-south highway and scattering snow from Malibu to the edge of the Mojave Desert, in an onslaught of cold and wind that left three dead and nine feared dead from a sinking ship near Catalina.
A 3-year-old girl was killed about 8 a.m. in Newhall when the pickup truck she was riding in hit another car head-on on a snow-strewn highway, according to a spokeswoman at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia. About three hours later, on the rain-slicked San Bernardino Freeway, a man in his 30s died in a collision with another truck, according to the California Highway Patrol.
South-Central Los Angeles residents found an unconscious homeless man huddled in a doorway Tuesday night. He later died, apparently of hypothermia, at California Medical Center, according to nursing supervisor Beth Jackson.
Fierce storm-fed surf swelling as high as 15 feet off Santa Barbara Tuesday night apparently prompted a distress signal from the 45-foot Hermosa Beach vessel Explorador, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Charles Embleton.
Coast Guard and Navy ships and aircraft resumed their search at 7 a.m. for nine sea-urchin divers--eight men and a woman. Their ship radio went dead Tuesday night, after they signaled at 9:12 p.m. that the ship was foundering in high winds, and they were taking to the water in wet suits on surfboards and carrying flares.
"If it hadn't been for those things, we might have called off the search much earlier," said Embleton of the hunt across 2,000 square miles of ocean and island shores from San Nicolas Island to Santa Catalina in still-heavy seas.
On land, gusty snow closed Interstate 5 at Castaic just after 5 a.m., as big-rig trucks jackknifed in the slush, said CHP dispatcher Lujanna Lopez.
Snow that sifted down as low as 1,000 feet in places settled over the Santa Monica Mountains, prompting drivers on Mulholland Drive and Kanan Dume Road to stop by the roadside for a longer look, said CHP Lt. Jerry Rudy.
Snow even fluttered briefly onto the sand at Malibu. "I can't believe it. I lived here 25 years and I don't recall ever having snow before," said Sharon Daley of the two-minute snow shower.
Schools, Roads Closed
Several inches of snow piling up in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys closed several schools and roads as well. The Santa Clarita Valley was "practically snowed in" at 9:30 a.m., said Sheriff's Lt. Charles Lane. Two major routes in the valley, Sierra Highway and San Francisquito Canyon Road, were shut down because of slick pavement.
At lower elevations, where it did not snow, it rained and blew--weather so inclement that Disneyland closed its gates unexpectedly for only the third time in 24 years.
In what Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Mike Gage called a "whacking big storm"--one that promises to worsen this afternoon when the full brunt of the weather front arrives--the city's homeless jammed into missions and shelters for warmth.
Rain and wind-blasts turned umbrellas inside-out, downed trees and intermittently broke off power to Department of Water and Power and Southern California Edison customers. By midday, nearly 10,000 customers had been without power for a few hours, many of them in the San Fernando Valley, said a DWP spokesman.
Times Staff Writer Jesse Katz in Ventura contributed to this story.