LOS ANGELES -- More torrential rain fell yesterday on Southern California, where a huge mudslide crashed down on homes in the coastal hamlet of La Conchita and a toddler drowned after being wrenched from her mother's grasp by a raging flood.
The deadly Pacific storm hammered the region for a fourth straight day, bringing the death toll to 12 and boosting rainfall totals to astonishing levels.
Three people died and up to 12 were missing in the mudslide that tore through a four-block area in La Conchita, damaging 15 to 20 homes, Ventura County fire officials said. Nine people were injured, including a 60-year-old man who was buried for three hours.
The hillside cascaded down like a brown river as authorities were evacuating about 200 residents from the area. Trees and vegetation were carried away, leaving huge gashes of raw earth on the bluff. Some residents made their way from the area clutching pets, luggage, or clothing as the huge mass of mud bore down. Some huddled together or cried as they talked on cellphones.
"It lasted a long time. It was slow-moving. The roofs of the houses were crashing and creaking real loud and there was a huge rumble sound," said Robert Cardoza, a construction worker who was clearing debris from a nearby highway.
As rescuers combed the debris and dropped listening devices into the rubble, geology experts with air horns watched the hillside above, ready to sound an alarm if it moved. But as a driving rainstorm pounded the area late last night, authorities decided it was too dangerous to continue searching through the mud and debris, which had piled up 30 feet high.
The wet, windy weather isn't expected to let up until tomorrow, with as much as 6 inches of rain forecast in the region through today and an additional 2 feet of snow at elevations above 7,500 feet.
"We're going to be getting more of the same, harsh weather," said Curt Kaplan, a National Weather Service forecaster.
La Conchita is a slip of a town pressed between a highway and a towering coastal bluff. Several houses were damaged by a mudslide here during powerful storms in the 1990s.
The destruction at La Conchita was the worst disaster of the storms to date, but mudslides and flooding were reported throughout the region, blocking road and rail travel and forcing a shutdown of interstate petroleum supply lines.
Over the weekend, a man was killed when his vehicle plunged into the surf off Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, and a homeless man died when the hillside where his tent was pitched gave way.
A 2-year-old California girl died after slipping from her mother's grasp as rescuers were lifting them from the family's vehicle, which got stuck in a flooded wash Sunday night, said Los Angeles County sheriff's Lieutenant Don Ford. The woman had driven around barricades, Ford said. The child's body was found yesterday.
Hundreds of accidents were reported on roads clogged by water, mud flows, and fallen trees, and rockslides yesterday closed the Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur, the California Highway Patrol said. Some Metrolink and Amtrak train service was canceled because of storm-related damage.
In the Cerritos area, a man whose car skidded off Interstate 5 into a storm drain Sunday was swept 2 miles downstream, authorities said. Firefighters threw him a rope from a bridge and started pulling him up, but he lost his grip and plunged back into the swift current. He was later pulled to safety on a bank. Two children in the car also were rescued.
"The last I heard he is unhurt and in good spirits," Fire Captain Mike Yule told CNN.
From the start of the latest wave of violent weather Friday through midday yesterday, several mountainous areas in Southern California had recorded more than 20 inches of rain, including 26 inches in Nordhoff Ridge in the Ventura County mountains. The rain follows stormy weather that blasted the state earlier in the week.
The National Weather Service said downtown Los Angeles had received 5.16 inches of rain since Friday, including a record 2.58 inches Sunday.
The average amount of winter rainfall in downtown Los Angeles is 15 inches, but about 21 inches had fallen as of yesterday.
The same storm has been dumping heavy snow across the Sierra Nevada, stalling an Amtrak train during the weekend, shutting down the Reno airport for the second time in a week.