Rain hits hard, but Southland bears up

Times Staff Writers

Intense rain pelted the Southland overnight early Saturday, flooding buildings, downing power lines, snarling traffic and causing at least four rain-related deaths. The region is bracing for one more significant storm today but has so far been spared major damage.

The latest storm, blasting in from the northern Pacific Ocean, was expected to arrive early this morning and dump up to an inch of rain along the coast and up to 2 inches in the mountains. As much as 8 inches of snow was expected at higher elevations.

Between Thursday and 4 p.m. Saturday, 1.54 inches of rain had fallen in downtown Los Angeles, 4.94 inches in Claremont and 5.16 inches in Monte Nido, near the Los Angeles and Ventura county line.

The weekend rainfall, which National Weather Service forecasters say should be the heaviest in three years, has already exceeded downtown L.A.'s seasonal average for this time of year. Since July 1, downtown has received 5.3 inches of rain, more than an inch above the 4.23-inch norm.

But water managers and climatologists say it would take a series of such storms to alleviate the region’s prolonged drought. Conditions have been exceedingly dry for nearly three years, and every other major source of water has also experienced drought, including the Sierra and the Colorado River Basin.


As a result, several Southern California cities are initiating conservation efforts and discussing the possibility of water rationing.

Though heavy rains this weekend took their toll, the region thus far has escaped the major flooding and catastrophic mudslides officials feared.

Canyon flooding was limited. Hillsides denuded of vegetation after last year’s wildfires remained largely intact.

At least four people died in road-related accidents.

In Chino, a 25-year-old woman was swept to her death in a flash flood early Saturday. Lindsey Marie Erickson of Corona was driving home with her boyfriend from dinner in Chino. She was traveling east on Chino Corona Road about 1 a.m. when her pickup truck was swept away by 8-foot-high waters in Mill Creek.

Erickson’s body was found several hundred yards south of the truck. Her boyfriend, Rene Valencia, 36, managed to free himself from the vehicle and cling to a nearby tree until help arrived, said Corona Police Lt. Al Cheatham.

Three other storm-related deaths were reported on Los Angeles County freeways. A 27-year-old San Fernando woman, Katarina Chavez, died when the Honda she was riding in slammed into the rear of a fire engine about 9 p.m. Friday on the rain- and wind-swept Antelope Valley Freeway.

The Honda’s driver, a Santa Clarita woman, suffered major injuries and was arrested on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter, the California Highway Patrol said.

About an hour later, a Nissan smashed into a tractor trailer on the shoulder of the 605 Freeway in Irwindale, killing passenger Cynthia Ann Marquez, 55, of Los Angeles.

And about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, an unidentified man died when his Toyota spun out of control and struck the center divider on rain-slick Interstate 5 north of downtown L.A., the CHP reported.

Elsewhere, up to half a foot of water flooded several classrooms and a museum at The Webb Schools, a boys and girls private high school in Claremont, after a mechanical pump designed to remove water from low-lying areas failed.

On the other side of the city, several condominiums on Wayland Court were flooded after a drain backed up near the Metrolink train tracks, said Capt. Chris Judd of the Los Angeles County Fire Department station in Claremont.

The region’s barren hillsides escaped largely untouched, but in Malibu, a small mud-and-rock slide Saturday morning cut off a section of Corral Canyon Road that was burned in the October wildfires.

In Orange County, rainwater created a 4-inch-deep stream across Silverado Canyon Road, leaving an inch of mud after the rain stopped. Officials expected up to an inch of additional rain this morning but lifted the evacuation order for Silverado Canyon and converted a mandatory order to a voluntary order for Modjeska, Williams and Harding canyons, said Sgt. Bob Sima of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

“There was a lot of mud and silt, not a mudslide,” Sima said.

Many residents of Modjeska Canyon ignored evacuation orders. “We decided we were going to stay in this time,” longtime resident Karen Buller said, “but we kept a close watch on things. My glorious husband, hallelujah, set his alarm clock and woke up every hour to make sure everything was OK.”

On Saturday, she said, she took a long walk through the neighborhood to make sure all was well. “The creek looks good,” Buller said, “just a little muddy. I feel good, but we’ll see what tonight brings.”

Resort operators at Mammoth Mountain and in the Lake Tahoe area were feeling particularly good Saturday. At Mammoth, up to 5 feet of fresh powder had fallen by Saturday morning.

At the Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort, about 3 feet of snow fell atop Mt. Pluto, said Jessica VanPernis, a resort spokeswoman.

“We’re open top to bottom, front to back,” she said. “I’m getting ready to get out there myself and make some turns.”

A winter storm warning remains in effect for the Sierra region until this evening.

About 2,800 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and 5,375 Southern California Edison customers remained without power late Saturday evening as crews worked to restore service. The two utilities reported a combined 298,000 customers affected by outages since midnight Friday. Most of them were because of power lines downed by 40- to 60-mph winds.

A DWP conversion station in Sylmar was flooded overnight, but there was no damage to operations, said Kim Hughes, a DWP spokeswoman.

In Northern and Central California, about 395,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers remained without power Saturday afternoon. More than 1.8 million had lost service since the storms first struck the area early Friday.

The rain forced Santa Anita racetrack to cancel a 10-race schedule Saturday, said Mike Willman, the park’s director of publicity. Today’s races are also in question, he said.



Times staff writers Rebecca Trounson and Janet Wilson contributed to this report.