Nine deaths blamed on killer California storms - East Valley Tribune: News

Nine deaths blamed on killer California storms

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Posted: Wednesday, February 23, 2005 11:17 am | Updated: 10:03 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

LOS ANGELES - Still more rain soaked Southern California on Wednesday, giving Los Angeles its wettest year in more than a century, after collapsing hillsides crushed homes, oozing mud blocked highways and a surging river carried away part of an airport.

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The deaths of nine people had been blamed on the series of storms that started last week, including one man who was killed by a falling eucalyptus tree and a teenage girl crushed by rocks that crashed into her bedroom.

While more rain fell overnight, the region was due for a break as the wet weather moved eastward, the National Weather Service said. To the east, two days or more of rain was forecast in already wet Arizona.

The average yearly rainfall in downtown Los Angeles is about 15 inches, but the total just since last Thursday reached 9.14 inches as of Wednesday morning.

The city's amount in the nearly eight months since July 1, when California begins its yearly rainfall measurements, reached 34.36 inches - more than the annual average for Seattle. That's also the city's third wettest year on record and within easy sight of the No. 2 year, 1889-90, when 34.84 inches of rain fell. The record for the entire year is 38.18 inches, set in 1883-84.

All that rain translated to as much as 10 feet of snow atop Mount Baldy, elevation 8,600 feet, in the San Bernardino Mountains northeast of Los Angeles. While the storm system had extended into Northern California, only about 3 feet of snow was measured in the southern Sierra Nevada range.

A stretch of about 2 miles of the Pacific Coast Highway leading into Malibu remained closed Wednesday because of mudslides and a huge boulder that threatened to roll onto the highway. Dozens of other roads in the region also were closed.

Amtrak suspended train service north of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara at least through Thursday because of mudslides, following a weekend in which rail service was shut down in other parts of the region.

Officials in Ventura County had to close the small Santa Paula airport Tuesday because more than 155 feet of runway collapsed into the rushing Santa Clara River. Chunks of concrete crumbled into the water throughout the day.

"We've lost nearly the entire west third of the airport," said Rowena Mason, president of the Santa Paula Airport Association. "This is millions and millions of dollars worth of damage."

Storms have caused $52.5 million in damage to Los Angeles County roads and facilities since the beginning of this year. The county has spent $9 million on repairs, including $500,000 since the weekend, officials said.

Authorities said dozens of homes were evacuated or red-tagged - marked as uninhabitable - because they threatened to collapse from sliding hillsides. Others already had collapsed or lost backyard patios and swimming pools.

Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn has asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to urge President Bush to issue a federal disaster declaration for the city.

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