Storm Stoked by Fierce Winds

Times Staff Writers

A rainstorm packing 40- to 50-mph winds howled across Southern California on Monday, toppling trees and power lines and disrupting light-rail service in Pasadena during the Rose Parade.

The gusts ripped through mountain passes, foothills and valleys most of the day, reaching 96 mph in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Mt. Wilson and 62 mph in the Santa Clarita community of Saugus. Even in areas closer to the coast, some gusts were more than 40 mph.

Emergency officials reported no major flooding, mudslides or wind damage.

Meanwhile, the stormy weather subsided in the Central Valley and Northern California, hammered by several days of rain that led to flooding and landslides. Rain continued throughout Monday, but it was light and did not swell rivers that had overflowed during the weekend. The Napa River fell to well below flood level, and homeowners and businesses continued to dig out from mud and debris.

Only low-lying Guerneville, on the Russian River in Sonoma County, remained underwater by Monday afternoon. The river had crested at 42 feet late Saturday night but slowly receded to 38 feet by Monday afternoon and was expected to drop below flood level -- 32 feet -- by early this morning, said Mike Edwards, a Sonoma Country spokesman.

Before touring inundated areas around downtown Napa, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday declared a state of emergency in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Napa, Sacramento, Sonoma and Trinity counties -- paving the way for state and federal relief funds.

"We will do anything and everything to ensure you get as much money as possible," Schwarzenegger told Napa city and county officials at a late-afternoon briefing.

The governor pledged to ask President Bush for money to improve flood-control preparations, including reinforcement of bridges and levees around the state to prevent a New Orleans-type disaster in a major earthquake. He promised to commit state dollars to that effort as well.

Officials in the Napa Valley said the most recent storm could have been far worse but for flood-control improvements undertaken primarily by local governments the last few years. They complained that the federal government had not contributed its share of upfront costs.

The federal government continues "to pay hundreds of millions of dollars over time for relief instead of paying tens of millions to fix the problem," said Barry Martin, a spokesman for Napa County.

Martin estimated the total remaining cost of protecting the county against a 100-year flood to be $100 million to $125 million.

The governor toured the flooded Napa home of Greg Allen, 37, and Zinaida Beynon, 33. He walked through their living room, where the water rose to 4 feet, passing furniture propped up on pieces of wood and stepping over wet cardboard lining the floor before looking at the receding water behind the house. He praised the couple and their neighbors for their determination to quickly recover from the mess.

Most of the massive flood control system in Sacramento and San Joaquin counties operated without incident, but several levees were threatened and some leaks were reported by the state Department of Water Resources. The system, which includes major dams and 1,600 miles of levees, was battered by one of the wettest Decembers on record in the northern Sierra Nevada watershed -- nearly 26 inches of rain, according to initial estimates.

A levee breach Monday forced the evacuation of about 100 residents near Collinsville, said Jeanie Esajian of the Department of Water Resources. Only two homes were reported flooded as of Monday afternoon, she said. A 1,000-foot breach also was reported Monday on remote Van Sickle Island in the Suisun Marsh area of Solano County, a road-less area accessible only by boat, where just a few people live.

Southern California and the Central Coast took the brunt of the storm Monday. In Pasadena, the gusts loosened scaffolding from a construction site. It hung perilously over the Metro Gold Line tracks near the Del Mar station, prompting officials to halt service between Lake Avenue and Mission Street in South Pasadena and shut down three stations.

Two of the stations, Del Mar and Memorial Park, were the ones closest to the Tournament of Roses Parade. They were shut down about two hours after the parade began, just when many people were leaving to ride the trains home.

Several thousand parade-goers and other riders were affected, some delayed by about an hour as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority dispatched 30 buses to take them around the shut-down part of the line.

MTA spokesman Bill Heard said it could have been worse, because a lot of rain-soaked people had already left the parade route before the Gold Line stations were closed.

"The bad weather actually helped us out," Heard said. "A lot of people started leaving the parade before the parade began because of the terrible weather. There was a steady stream of people leaving during the parade."

The Fillmore station was shut about three hours, reopening at 12:45 p.m., followed by the Memorial Park station. Monday night, the Del Mar station was the only one that remained closed, and MTA officials asked that riders use the Memorial Park station for this morning's commute. Officials also said trains would run every 20 minutes -- instead of 10 -- because of problems removing the scaffolding.

Service was normal elsewhere on the Gold Line.

The National Weather Service reported that a line of thunderstorms and strong winds moved rapidly across the San Gabriel Valley about noon. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reported scattered power outages there, and at least one traffic light temporarily went out. Downed power lines and trees were reported in Claremont.

Late into the evening, though the storm had dissipated and was heading out of Southern California, power outages remained across the Southland, from the San Fernando Valley to Orange County and the Inland Empire.

Clear, dry skies and higher temperatures were forecast for the rest of the week.

The heaviest rain began about 8 a.m. -- just in time for the Rose Parade -- and lasted several hours.

In the 36 hours ending Monday evening, about 3 inches of rain fell in Beverly Hills and Newhall, about 2 inches in downtown Los Angeles, Burbank, Van Nuys and parts of the San Gabriel Valley and less than an inch at Los Angeles International Airport and in Long Beach.

In the small town of Cambria north of San Luis Obispo, emergency officials reported that half a dozen homes were damaged by falling trees about 3 p.m. and that at least one person had to be rescued from his home. San Luis Obispo recorded more than 5 inches of rain.

A flash-flood watch was issued for parts of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties until Monday night, particularly for the hills and canyons in the western San Fernando Valley and eastern Ventura County that burned in last autumn's Topanga Fire. But problems seemed relatively minor, such as a flooded intersection at Whittier Boulevard and Redman Avenue in Whittier and an early morning rockslide on Malibu Canyon Road that was quickly cleaned up.

The California Highway Patrol reported 375 traffic accidents in Los Angeles County on Sunday and Monday, compared with 234 during all of last week.

At the beaches, the winds generated large swells that pounded piers and marinas. The dangerous surf, which raises the risk of some coastal flooding, is the only weather warning that remains in effect for today. No rain or high winds are expected, at least through the weekend.

A few residents of La Conchita, the coastal community where a massive landslide killed 10 people a year ago, checked into a motel for the weekend after listening to worrisome weather reports.

But only about an inch fell there since Saturday, and the storm did little damage to the neighborhood, said Mike Bell, chairman of the La Conchita Community Organization.

"We're fine," he said. "The storm went above us and below us."

Residents have met with emergency workers in recent months to discuss evacuation plans in case of another mudslide. "We've pretty much prepared ourselves as a community to take care of ourselves and keep a better eye on the hill," Bell said.

In the Sierra Nevada and the eastern foothills, snow immobilized much of the area. Avalanches closed nearly all of U.S. 395 on Monday, from 13 miles north of Bishop all the way up to Bridgeport, cutting off the only north-south road along the Eastern Sierra.

"Travel is nearly impossible and strongly discouraged," the Mono County Sheriff's Office said in an emergency bulletin Monday. "If you attempt to travel today, you are putting your life and the lives of rescue, law enforcement and utility personnel at risk."

Mammoth Mountain reported that almost 100 inches of snow fell Sunday and Monday.

The resort was closed on New Year's Day but reopened some lifts Monday, with snow tapering off and no storms expected there today or the rest of the week.

Staff writers Caitlin Liu and Erika Hayasaki and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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