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Rain keeps battering Calif.

Hillsides collapse, houses imperiled, motorists rescued

Linda Dealy and her dog were rescued yesterday after being stranded in the Premiere Hotel when flood water rose during a powerful rainstorm in San Diego. Linda Dealy and her dog were rescued yesterday after being stranded in the Premiere Hotel when flood water rose during a powerful rainstorm in San Diego. (Sandy Huffaker/ Getty Images)
By Gillian Flaccus
Associated Press / December 23, 2010

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LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. — A powerful storm dumped more rain on already waterlogged Southern California yesterday, washing hillsides onto highways, endangering houses in canyons, and forcing rescuers to pluck dozens of motorists from flooded streets.

Floodwaters also washed away homes in Arizona and inundated parts of Nevada and Utah.

The low-pressure system could be in New Mexico by today and could reach the Gulf Coast by Saturday with some rain, but not the deluge that hit Southern California, forecasters said.

In Southern California, the burst of heavy rain in the morning left streets flooded and caused minor mudslides. The threat, however, of larger mudslides could last for weeks in the suburban Los Angeles canyon hillsides laid bare by wildfires.

“The ground is so saturated it could move at any time,’’ said Bob Spencer, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

Spencer added that catch basins designed to hold a landslide’s uprooted trees and other debris before it can wash down onto homes appeared to have plenty of capacity.

Heavy rains early yesterday caused a hillside to collapse on part of a busy Interstate 10 transition road about 30 miles outside Los Angeles.

In eastern Orange County, 25 to 30 people were evacuated from their homes in Silverado Canyon. The houses were threatened by rolling boulders and debris flow. The canyon is on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest that burned in a 1997 wildfire.

Silverado Creek was swollen with muddy brown water, and roads were choked with mud and uprooted trees.

Orange County Fire Authority Captain Larry Kurtz said firefighters walked residents to a church and searched deeper in the canyon for remote homes. “If we have any more rain, there are people who just can’t get out,’’ Kurtz said.

Paul Wright, whose best friend died in an Orange County mudslide in 1997, said he was awakened by the sound of rolling boulders at 3 a.m. and hurried to get his family out of his home.

“There’s huge, big boulders, ‘Boom! Boom!,’ ’’ he said. “I lost my house in the Laguna mudslide, so I’m erring on the side of caution.’’

In the towns of Laguna Beach and adjoining Laguna Woods, rescuers plucked more than 30 drivers, pedestrians, and people stuck in their homes as mud and storm water poured down steep hillsides.

“There’s mud and rocks and hillside collapses,’’ Laguna Beach police Lieutenant Jason Kravetz said. “It was too much [rain], too quick.’’

On Tuesday, officials ordered evacuation of 232 homes in La Canada Flintridge and La Crescenta, suburbs of Los Angeles below steep hillsides that burned in 2009 and where mudslides inundated homes and backyards in February.

The area is where the Station Fire charred 250 square miles above suburbs tucked below the San Gabriel Mountains.

Olivia Brown, 45, left her Paradise Valley home in the La Canada Flintridge area around midnight.

“I’m worried about a rock coming down on the house,’’ Brown said at a Red Cross shelter. “My husband stayed home with two of our dogs. He had to be a man, you know, and hold down the fort.’’