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Residents Brace as Storm Moves In : Flood Watches Begin as Rain Returns to an Already Saturated Southland

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Steady showers from a storm that forecasters say could dump as much as three inches of rain on the already sodden Southland moved onshore Monday, prompting flash flood watches, hampering crop harvests and possibly contributing to a fatal traffic accident in Woodland Hills.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for Malibu, Altadena and Laguna Beach--areas where the 1993 wildfires seared away protective vegetation. The rain, expected to become increasingly heavy today, could loosen soil and spark mudslides, forecasters warned.

In what police said could have been a weather-related death, an elderly man crossing Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Woodland Hills was killed Monday morning when he was hit by two vehicles.

Harry Stein, who relatives said was in his early 80s, was on his way to a restaurant about 5:40 a.m. when a hit-and-run driver in a pickup truck knocked him to the pavement at Topanga and Calvert Street, Los Angeles Police Detective Rick Talkington said.

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As Stein struggled to his feet, he was hit a second time by a driver in a Buick Riviera who skidded to a stop. Talkington said the rain may have kept the drivers from seeing Stein, who died at the scene.

In Orange County, where officials braced for another blow from Mother Nature, news of the approaching storm made its way to the beaches, where local surfers were hoping for higher and fiercer waves Monday.

As the Laguna Beach Fire Department prepared to set up its oft-used emergency operations center in a city already devastated by rains, about 70 surfers at Seal Beach ventured into swells that reached nearly eight feet--only to be disappointed.

“The waves are no good; they’re in poor shape,” said John Seixas, 24, a San Pedro surfer. After spending four hours in the water, he walked away dissatisfied. “Just because it’s eight feet, that doesn’t mean it’s fun.” An ideal wave towers and curls over the surfer, allowing him to ride it, Seixas said, but Monday’s waves would break too soon.

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In Ventura County, steady rainfall hampered farmers’ efforts to harvest celery and strawberry fields that had barely dried out from the deluge earlier this month.

Minor street flooding was reported in Ventura and Oxnard by nightfall, but there were no reports of significant flooding of homes.

By late Monday afternoon, up to half an inch of rain had fallen in parts of the Los Angeles area, and another one to three inches was expected today in coastal areas, forecasters said.

Up to Six inches could fall in the Southern California mountains and more than two feet at elevations above 6,000 feet by late Wednesday, said Curtis Brack, a meteorologist with WeatherData, which provides forecasts for The Times. Most of the rain from this storm should fall by tonight, but the wet weather could remain through Thursday, forecasters said.

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Relief from the storm should come by Friday when a ridge of high pressure is expected to develop, Brack said.

Through Monday afternoon, 12.35 inches of rain had fallen at the Los Angeles Civic Center during this season, which began July 1. The normal rainfall for the period is just under seven inches.

Times staff writers Michael Granberry and Tina Nguyen in Orange County and Julie Tamaki in the San Fernando Valley and community correspondent Kay Saillant in Ventura County contributed to this report.


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