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Rain Refreshes Farmland, Trashes Freeway Commute

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The first rain of the new year heartened farmers Tuesday but triggered numerous accidents including an overturned trash truck on the Ventura Freeway bridge over the Santa Clara River that had cars backed up for miles.

As much as half an inch of rain fell on portions of Ventura County Tuesday, but some spots received only sporadic showers. The heaviest rainfall was over by early evening, and weather forecasters were predicting that the area could be hit by more stormy weather Friday and again late Sunday.

Partly cloudy skies were expected for today and Thursday.

“We need the rain. We’re way behind normal,” said Dolores Taylor, the county’s senior hydrologist.

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Ventura and Thousand Oaks have received half the normal amount of rain expected by this point in the rainy season. Simi Valley’s precipitation is about one-third of normal and Fillmore’s is one-fourth of normal.

Tuesday’s storm, which arrived from the west about 1 p.m., dropped between one-fourth and half an inch of rain in Ojai, Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and Moorpark, with lesser amounts in Simi Valley, Santa Paula and Fillmore. Piru didn’t have any rain by 6 p.m., when the bulk of the storm had passed.

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“It’s probably whetting our appetites for the rain that is supposed to come this weekend,” said Rex Laird, executive director of the Ventura County Farm Bureau. “Many farmers are not going to irrigate based on what they see coming this weekend. Any rain is appreciated, but it really wasn’t that significant.

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“From a market and profitability standpoint, the fact that the roads are opening up back East after their snowstorm is more significant than [Tuesday’s] rain in Ventura County,” Laird said.

The California Highway Patrol and local law enforcement were bombarded with traffic accidents throughout Ventura County.

“With all that happened, there were no major injuries,” said CHP dispatcher Michael Dickerson. “We were lucky. There were a lot of accidents. It was pretty crazy for a while.”

Rain-slick pavement led to the crash of an E.J. Harrison & Sons, Inc. trash truck about 2:15 p.m. near the Johnson Drive exit on the northbound lanes of the Ventura Freeway, said CHP Officer Mark Hodges.

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With two of the three northbound lanes closed for about two hours, traffic backed up for at least three miles before reopening about 4 p.m., the CHP said.

The truck driver, Jose de Jesus Esparza, 27, of Santa Paula, told the CHP that he braked when the traffic slowed to about 30 mph but lost control of the truck, crossing three lanes of traffic and hitting a guardrail. The truck landed on its side, but Esparza escaped without injury.

To wait out the Ventura Freeway traffic jam, many travelers headed for roadside restaurants or shopping centers.

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Monica Lazaro, a hostess at the Olive Garden Restaurant near the Oxnard Auto Mall, said, “People were just saying they were trying to get out of it before it got too backed up. . . . We just [sold] them coffee to keep warm.”

Peter Martin, 48, a Lompoc telephone equipment maintenance operator, said it took him half an hour to get from Camarillo to Rose Avenue in Oxnard.

“It’s about the worst I’ve ever seen it backed up,” he said.

Correspondents Nick Green and Eric Wahlgren contributed to this story.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

County Rainfall

Here are rainfall figures from the Ventura County Flood Control Department for the 24-hour period ending at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday. Oct. 1 is the beginning of the official rain year.

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Rainfall Rainfall Normal rainfall Location last 24 hours since Oct. 1 to date Camarillo 0.35 2.67 5.86 Casitas Dam 0.28 3.63 9.87 El Rio NA NA 6.26 Fillmore 0.04 2.08 8.19 Moorpark 0.35 2.78 6.23 Ojai 0.28 2.38 8.73 Upper Ojai 0.31 2.45 9.32 Oxnard 0.30 2.13 6.01 Piru 0.00 2.38 7.15 Santa Paula 0.08 2.27 7.48 Simi Valley 0.16 2.00 5.94 Thousand Oaks 0.35 3.07 6.37 Ventura Govt. Center 0.47 3.17 6.66

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