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Latest Rainstorm Packs a Punch

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The latest in a series of storms pelted Southern California on Friday, bringing strong winds and high tides that sent part of a Malibu home crashing into the surf below and causing flooding, power failures and beach closures from Los Angeles to San Diego.

The showers were the tail end of the second major storm to pass through Southern California since Wednesday, when the strongest storm systems in years began dropping more rain on the region than in the previous eight months, and spawned a rare tornado that damaged dozens of homes in Orange County.

With Friday’s storm came more problems. In Malibu, heavy surf slammed against a row of expensive beachfront properties at Las Tunas Beach, severely damaging one home and threatening to undermine at least two others nearby.

“There wasn’t much we could do,” County Fire Department Capt. Larry Huerta said around 10 a.m., after violent waves swept the pilings from beneath a two-story house in the 18000 block of Pacific Coast Highway, causing its front to collapse onto the beach.

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Pounding surf driven by the storm also swept away boats along Los Angeles County beaches, and flooded septic tank fields near beachside homes, causing sewage spills that forced the indefinite closure of miles of beaches from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to the Los Angeles County line. Overnight, at least a dozen homes were flooded in the western Antelope Valley, and morning rain contributed to a 20-car pileup on the Santa Ana Freeway near Mission Viejo. Breakers as high as 10 feet were reported in San Diego.

The storm was expected to move east and away from Southern California by this morning, leaving behind a weekend of dry but cloudy skies. However, two more storm systems are expected to pass through the region next week, possibly bringing showers Tuesday that could continue off and on through Friday.

The rain was a welcome, though temporary, reprieve from the parching five-year drought that has gripped California.

Almost 0.7 of an inch fell at the Los Angeles Civic Center during a 24-hour period ending late Friday, bringing the season’s total to 5.17 inches--most of that falling this week. The total was less than half the season’s normal rainfall of 11.7 inches, but weather experts were pleased nevertheless.

“We’re still short, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said WeatherData meteorologist Steve Burback. “Usually this is the tail end of the (rainy) season, so it caught us just in time after being so desperately dry.”

In other parts of the Southland on Friday, Culver City recorded an inch of rain, Montebello reported 1.55 inches, Long Beach 1.28, Newport Beach 1.25 and Palm Springs 1.93. Rainfall generally varied from 1 to 3 inches in other parts of the region.

No one was injured at the Malibu house that collapsed and the owner, who was away at the time, managed with the help of neighbors to remove most of his furniture and belongings. County building and safety officials condemned the property.

“It doesn’t look good, but I’m thankful that we were able to get most everything out,” owner Greg Econn said. Econn, who remodeled the house as a weekend and summer home several years ago, learned of the incident after a neighbor called him at work.

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“I heard a loud bang and looked out and the house was down,” said Fay Singer, whose beach home is next to the badly damaged house.

Witnesses said that once waves demolished part of a sea wall protecting the house from the ocean, it was only a few minutes before the foundation of the house began to crumble.

“I knew something awful had happened when a big wave lashed up over my patio and hit my living room window,” said Sharon Cain, who watched from her second-story living room as Econn’s house, three doors away, slid perilously close to the sea.

“As soon as I looked out, I saw it go,” she said. “First, the (outside) stairs broke off, and then the patio buckled, and then the whole house sort of shifted to the left and collapsed.”

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In the western Antelope Valley, homes were flooded when an overnight collapse of a water detention basin sent a muddy river flowing through the community of Quartz Hill. Moving mud banks shoved parked cars out into the middle of the street.

Los Angeles County firefighters struggled to stem the water flow with sandbags throughout the day, possibly preventing the erosion of another basin.

Wind and rain caused $100,000 in damage to the Yucca Bowl, a bowling alley in Yucca Valley, 100 miles east of Los Angeles. Winds lifted a roof coating and rain water poured inside, damaging the lanes, officials said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Water and Power and the California Highway Patrol were kept busy responding to power failures and accidents on rain-slicked roads.

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Power lines knocked out by lightning and strong winds left 35,000 people without electricity by early Friday afternoon, said DWP spokesman Ed Freudenburg. Most of the affected customers were in the city of Los Angeles, he said, and power was expected to be restored by the evening.

A spokeswoman for Pacific Bell said the storm had temporarily disrupted telephone service to 30,000 customers throughout Southern California.

CHP Officer Chuck Mosley said accidents caused temporary closures of several freeways.

In Woodland Hills, a fallen pepper tree blocked the 4700 block of heavily traveled Topanga Canyon Boulevard for more than an hour Friday morning.

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Fender-benders made for brisk business for at least one local insurance company. Brenda Smith of State Farm Insurance said that about 500 losses had been reported between Wednesday and Friday afternoon.

The volume “is large enough for us to have to set up a special unit just to handle them and we’re anticipating more losses,” Smith said.

The second storm, which blew in from the Pacific late Thursday night, stirred up waves as high as eight feet in San Diego and Orange counties. The waves were high enough to pique the interest of surfers but were rendered unridable by the high winds.

“It’s like Victory at Sea here,” said Huntington Beach Lifeguard Lt. Steve Davidson. “It looks like the agitation cycle in a washing machine.”

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Larry Wheaton, a 35-year-old surfer from San Diego, sat on the sands of Laguna Beach watching the roiling waves. “It’s pretty junky and bumpy out there,” he said. Times staff writers Amy Pyle and James M. Gomez and Times wire services contributed to this story.

The Rain 24-hour total (as of 4:30 p.m.).63 in. Storm total: 3.79 in. Monthly total: 3.79 in. Total for season: 5.17 in. Last season to date: 5.43 in. Normal season to date: 11.16 in. Figues based on 7 p.m. Friday readings at the Los Angeles Civic Center, were compiled by the National Weather Service.


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