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Downpour Takes Its Wet Toll

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A punishing winter storm drenched Southern California on Thursday, crippling traffic, downing power lines and uprooting trees, but failing to trigger serious floods or landslides.

Day 2 of the biggest storm of the season brought cars to a crawl on the region’s arteries, causing 149 traffic accidents and three fatalities, California Highway Patrol officials said. The rain was linked to 23 SigAlerts.

In Orange County, the storm contributed to 71 traffic accidents, including one in which a driver was fatally injured, and collapsed the roof of a building near John Wayne Airport, authorities said.

Monica Lee Haig, 44, of Irvine died after losing control of her 1993 Mazda Miata at 7:15 a.m. and striking a street light standard on MacArthur Boulevard in Newport Beach, authorities said. She was transported to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, where she died minutes later, officials said.

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The roof of Sares-Regis Group, an Irvine real estate firm at 18802 Bardeen Ave., collapsed under the weight of water, probably because drains were clogged, said Dennis Shell, spokesman for the Orange County Fire Department. No injuries were reported. Rescue workers responded to the collapse, which left a 20-foot hole in the ceiling, because the incident set off the fire alarm, Shell said. Officials estimated damage to the structure and to computers and other equipment inside to be $100,000.

The storm also caused Orange County’s first beach closure of the year. A three-quarter-mile stretch of Doheny State Beach is off limits to swimmers and surfers because of a 2,000-gallon spill of barely treated sewage, said Monica Mazur, spokeswoman for the Orange County Health Care Agency. Last year, sewage spills closed county beaches a record 40 times.

Thursday’s spill occurred at 10 a.m. after equipment malfunctioned near the Southeast Regional Reclamation Authority’s waste water treatment plant in Dana Point, Mazur said. Effluent flowed into San Juan Creek, which empties into the ocean at Doheny.

Mazur warned that all beaches are subject to dangerously high bacteria levels after heavy rains, which wash urban runoff--a toxic brew of pet waste, oil and other contaminants--into creeks, storm drains and other pathways to the Pacific. The resulting plumes of polluted water may linger on the ocean surface near the shoreline for at least three days, she said.

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Deaths on the Freeways

Elsewhere, a 43-year-old Palmdale man died on the Golden State Freeway in Sylmar when his car slid into a big rig that had skidded across slick pavement. The man’s name was not released.

Late Wednesday, during a downpour that limited visibility, a 26-year-old woman standing next to her car in the carpool lane of the San Diego Freeway in Carson was killed when she was struck by a passing car. Her identity was not released.

Traffic clogged some streets because traffic signals were darkened by power outages. In Topanga Canyon, boulders tumbled down a hillside and hammered cars parked along Topanga Canyon Boulevard near Cheney Drive. Runoff water pooled on several freeways.

Despite concerns about the heavy seas generated by the storm, coastal flooding was generally minor. Malibu’s collection of expensive beachfront homes--many built on supports over the sand--apparently survived Thursday’s 9:41 a.m. high tide without damage.

The storm pelted San Juan Capistrano with 3.80 inches of rain by Thursday afternoon--almost triple the total the region had received so far this season. Orange had 3.60 inches of rain; Westminster and Laguna Niguel each had 3.40 inches. Downtown Los Angeles recorded 3.84 inches. In Bel-Air, 5.55 inches fell; in Burbank, 3.82; and in Hawthorne, 2.53. More than 7 inches of rain fell on the San Marcos Pass in Santa Barbara County.

Meteorologists said the rain may continue through today. “This storm is really wound up tight, like a spinning top, and it is going up against a cold front that’s just sitting there, which isn’t good,” said Tom Carlson, a meteorologist with Weather Central Inc. in Madison, Wis., which does forecasting for The Times. “You can have a dry slot in the middle, and the rain comes back again.”

In other weather-related developments Thursday, an early-morning downpour flooded westbound lanes of the Riverside Freeway, forcing its closure at State College Boulevard in Anaheim, California Highway Patrol officials said. The freeway opened about 7:30 a.m. CHP officers also closed 15 miles of Ortega Highway from La Pata Avenue in San Juan Capistrano to the Riverside County line after landslides covered portions of the roadway with 3 feet of mud.

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Power failures were reported in Placentia, Huntington Beach, La Palma and Costa Mesa.

In Seal Beach’s Surfside community, an 8-foot-high wall of sandbags built by residents, rescue workers, police and inmates from Orange County Jail did its job, holding back the morning’s unusually high tide.

Orange County crews with bulldozers also reinforced a berm after an alley and more than 20 garages in Surfside were flooded during Tuesday’s high tide.

A few surfers took advantage of the 10- to 12-foot waves. “I can’t believe there’s not more guys out there,” surfer Bill Burns said after paddling to shore.

The storm forced closure of hiking trails in nine popular county parks.

“Typically, after a pretty good rain, trails are closed . . . because of the wet and muddy conditions, for both public safety and resource protection,” said Tim Miller, superintendent of the county’s Harbors, Beaches and Parks division. “The worst thing you can do is ride a mountain bike or a horse or even jog through a muddy trail. It makes a mess of the trail, plus it is unsafe.”

Gen. Thomas F. Riley Wilderness Park, Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, Peters Canyon Regional Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park were closed.

Campgrounds remain open but trails are closed at Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park and O’Neill Regional Park. Picnic areas remain open but trails are closed at Santiago Oaks Regional Park and Irvine Regional Park.

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All of the closures likely will last into next week, authorities said.

Firefighters kept busy responding to numerous reports of downed power lines, blown transformers, traffic accidents, stranded motorists, fallen trees and local flooding. None resulted in major injuries.

Heavy Snow in the Mountains

The storm snarled traffic in the Inland Empire and the mountains north of San Bernardino, where more than 2 feet of snow fell in some areas.

In the Cajon Pass, a steep stretch of Interstate 15 that connects the city of San Bernardino with Victorville and Barstow was particularly problematic. Snow and rain fell there, forcing the California Highway Patrol to escort groups of cars through the pass. About 7:30 a.m., a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department bus carrying prisoners to courthouses in the northern regions of the county slid off the pavement in the pass, said CHP spokesman Kevin Haney. There were no injuries, and the prisoners were transferred to another bus, which took them to their appointments in court.

The resort community of Big Bear Lake was brought to a standstill by the heavy snow.

“We can’t even count how many cars are stuck on the side of the road,” said CHP Sgt. Jerry Beardsley.

For updates and more information on Orange County beach conditions, call (714) 667-3752 or go to https://www.oc.ca.gov/hca/regulatory/ocean/beach.htm.

For more information on Orange County park closures, call individual parks or see https://www.ocparks.com.

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Times staff writers Seema Mehta, Nora Zamichow, Elise Gee, Scott Gold, Richard Fausset, Karima A. Haynes, Timothy Hughes and Bob Pool, and correspondents Alex Katz and Deniene Husted contributed to the report.


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