Heavy Rain, Winds Pass; Missing Hikers Found

Times Staff Writer

The last major band of heavy rain and high winds from a slow-moving storm system moved out of Southern California this afternoon after the system drenched the region this week with record rainfall and even a tornado.

And this afternoon, rescuers found two hikers who were reported missing Tuesday near Mt. Baldy, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles, said Cindy Beavers, the public information officer for the San Bernardino County sheriff’ s office.

Twins Richard Encinas of Rancho Cucamonga and Robert Encinas of West Covina, 44 years old, were found in an area called Ice House Saddle, located at the 7,600-foot level. Both men were in good condition and hiking back with the rescue team, Beavers said.

Forecasters said conditions should be dry in time for the evening commute, but said that localized heavy showers, thunderstorms and gusty winds were still likely. Flash flooding was possible in the mountains and valleys of Los Angeles County until 6 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.

“It looks like the heaviest of the rain is over,” said meteorologist Carl Erickson with AccuWeather, a private weather forecasting firm. “The storm system has moved inland and we will have drier air moving in today and tonight.”

Weather service officials today confirmed that a weak tornado struck Inglewood early this morning and were looking for evidence of tornadoes in Long Beach, Norwalk and the Whittier Hills, according to meteorologist Curt Kaplan. The tornado was given the weakest rating, F-0, which means a potential of generating winds of 40 mph to 72 mph.

The tornado in Inglewood damaged a house and cars and destroyed several trees, police told Associated Press. No injuries were reported.

Radar images of thunderstorms that swept across the region after midnight showed signs of tornado activity but a visual inspection was needed for confirmation, Kaplan said.

The storm system, which has been sending waves of heavy rain across the region since Monday night, has dropped 4 inches to 8 inches of rain across most of the coastal plain near Los Angeles. Downtown Los Angeles received 6.68 inches during the last 48 hours, and one mountain location in Ventura County was drenched with 14.50 inches, according to AccuWeather.

Rain was still falling steadily in many areas early this morning, leading to scores of traffic accidents, freeway lane closures and scattered power outages.

In Cerritos, crews closed off several residential streets near the Los Cerritos Center mall this morning after more than two dozen trees toppled, said city spokeswoman Lauri Kajiwara.

The freeways around Los Angeles International Airport were hard hit as flooding forced the closure of three southbound lanes on the 405 Freeway just north of the 105 Freeway. The transition road from the southbound 405 to the 105 Freeway was also closed, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Meanwhile, just south of the airport, the Sepulveda Boulevard onramp to the eastbound 105 Freeway was open again after an accident left an overturned car blocking lanes, according to CHP Officer Francisco Villalobos.

More than 220 collisions and traffic incidents were reported today on Los Angeles County freeways during the early morning hours. “We’ve had a lot of spinouts and cars hitting guard rails,” Villalobos said.

Interstate 5, which had been closed because of snow near Tejon Pass, reopened this morning, but the northbound 101 Freeway north of Santa Barbara remained closed from Winchester Canyon to Gaviota Beach. A nearly 15-mile stretch of the north-south highway has been closed because of mudslides and concerns that water had undermined sections of the road, according to CHP officials in Santa Barbara. The 101 is expected to reopen by New Year’s Day. Until then, northbound traffic is being diverted to Highway 154.

Another storm system was scheduled to hit the state beginning Thursday, but the heaviest rain and wind should hit Northern and Central California, according to Erickson at AccuWeather.

Southern California might receive an additional half an inch of rain Thursday night and Friday morning. There is only a slight chance of showers forecast for New Year’s Day and the Rose Parade.

A sanitation truck driver was killed Tuesday in Los Angeles’ Jefferson Park neighborhood when he touched a power line downed by the winds and rain.

The storms are the latest in a series of weather systems that have drenched Southern California this fall and winter. After seeing no significant rain since March, the area recorded the wettest October in a century.

With the year almost over, downtown Los Angeles exceeded its normal annual rainfall total of 15.14 inches by 1.46 inches as of Tuesday, significant because the area has endured years of less-than-normal rainfall, said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist for the National Weather Service.

Times staff writers David Pierson and Mary MacVean contributed to this report.