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Storm Sets Area Record; Lake Dam Warning Issued

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A hard-charging Pacific storm continued to soak Ventura County Tuesday, setting a monthly rainfall record at the County Government Center and prompting a warning that Lake Casitas could spill over its dam sometime today.

The sporadic downpours also triggered new mudslides, closed all but one lane of the northbound Ventura Freeway at Seacliff and contributed to minor traffic accidents throughout the day, authorities said.

The heaviest rainfall in Southern California was recorded on Old Man Mountain along the Ventura County and Santa Barbara County line, where 11 inches of rain fell in the 24 hours ending at 5 p.m., the National Weather Service reported.

With a flash flood watch extended until 9 a.m. today, the Sheriff’s Department issued a public advisory urging parents to teach their children about the hazards of playing near fast-moving creeks and rivers.

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“Invariably, we have people that try and ride the rapids and it’s very dangerous,” Senior Deputy Chuck Buttell said.

“They don’t call it a flash flood for nothing,” he said. “It’s one of those things where the water can come up in a heartbeat.”

Despite Tuesday’s rain-related problems, authorities said the county’s most saturated areas fared better than expected.

The volume of water in the Ventura River and its tributaries rose steadily before dawn Tuesday, then peaked about 7 a.m. and began to recede during a lull in the showers.

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At its peak, the Ventura River was flowing at 9,000 cubic feet per second--half the amount needed to swamp the Ventura RV Resort.

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“We’re below panic levels on all of the predictions,” said Dolores Taylor, a senior engineer in the county’s Flood Control Department.

“There’s definitely water running everywhere, but it’s not at flood stage,” she said.

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So far, Ventura County is more than 200% ahead of the normal rainfall for this time of year, with specific totals varying by area. Downtown Ventura, for instance, is 256% ahead of normal, while Fillmore has received 206% more rain than usual.

“If it stops raining altogether (this year), we’re probably still going to be above normal,” said John Weikle, a hydrologist with county flood control.

This week’s showers also shattered a 25-year record for monthly rainfall in Ventura. By Tuesday morning, 15.1 inches of rain had fallen at the County Government Center, contrasted with the 13.37 that fell during January, 1969, the previous record.

“And it ain’t over yet, we’re getting more rain tomorrow,” Taylor said late Tuesday.

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The National Weather Service forecast that the brunt of a Pacific storm would sweep across the county by mid-morning today, dropping as much as two inches along the coast and four inches in the mountains.

As a result, county officials planned to keep a close watch on the Ventura River for possible flooding and on other spots for mudslides.

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“We do have swift-water rescue teams staged in various areas of the county,” said Wendy Haddock, the county’s assistant director of emergency services. “We’re monitoring hour by hour.”

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One of the teams mobilized early Tuesday when a Camarillo teen-ager jumped into a concrete flood channel after being seen rifling through a car in a nearby apartment complex, authorities said.

A sheriff’s rescue team and helicopter scanned the channel for the boy, but did not spot him. The 16-year-old later called his parents to say he was OK, and is now wanted on suspicion of car burglary and possession of stolen property, deputies said.

After the expected main brunt of the storm passes through the area this morning, only one-quarter to one-half inch of rain is expected to fall across the county the rest of the day, with the chance of showers lessening for the remainder of the week.

“We’re looking at drying out during the day on Friday and having a really nice weekend,” National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Danielson said.

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John Johnson, general manager of the Casitas Municipal Water District, said it is difficult to pinpoint when, or if, Lake Casitas will reach capacity and begin pouring over its dam.

Tuesday evening, the lake was about three-quarters of a foot from capacity and rising because of rainfall and runoff from a 38-square-mile watershed. Prior to Jan. 3, when the storms began, the lake was nine feet below capacity.

Three more inches of rain between Tuesday night and this morning, Johnson said, would probably put the lake over the top.

“It all depends on what we actually get in our watershed,” he said.

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Residents along Coyote Creek below the dam were warned to clear the creek of shrubs and other debris to protect their homes from flooding as the lake level rose to one foot below capacity.

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In other parts of the county, mudslides closed several roads early Tuesday and kept maintenance workers scrambling.

California 126 between Fillmore and the Golden State Freeway was shut down at 1 a.m. when debris tumbled across the road two miles east of Fillmore. It was reopened at 11:22 a.m.

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A mudslide also forced officials to close Potrero Road between the Thousand Oaks city limits and the Camarillo State Hospital, while east county emergency personnel were kept busy assisting motorists involved in minor, rain-related traffic accidents.

Thousand Oaks officials reported no serious flooding.

Workers at the Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks again put out buckets to catch water trickling through a leaky roof.

“There aren’t any new leaks,” building supervisor Ed Johnduff said.

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Correspondent Paul Elias contributed to this article.

* EL NINO

Weather phenomenon affects area. B11

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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County Rainfall Here are rainfall figures from the Ventura County Flood Control Department for the 24-hour period ending at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Oct. 1 is the beginning of the official rain year.

Rainfall Rainfall Normal rainfall Location last 24 hours since Oct. 1 to date Camarillo 1.46 14.82 6.63 Casitas Dam 2.28 27.86 11.21 El Rio 1.85 18.25 7.17 Fillmore 2.48 20.47 9.22 Moorpark 1.93 15.97 7.11 Ojai 1.57 23.38 10.00 Upper Ojai 1.54 29.84 10.69 Oxnard 1.77 17.77 6.90 Piru 1.89 19.04 8.22 Santa Paula 0.91 19.18 8.46 Simi Valley 1.93 15.87 6.79 Thousand Oaks 2.52 17.71 7.30 Ventura Govt. Center 1.77 19.54 6.68


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