California Storm Brings Flash Floods, Mudslides, Evacuations

california storms
A vineyard is shown partially submerged in water in Healdsburg, California December 12, 2014. A majorstorm that pummeled northern California and the Pacific Northwest with heavy rain and high winds and killed two people moved south overnight, prompting evacuation orders in areas prone to floods and mud flows. The National Weather Service forecast the system to track through southwestern California late on Thursday and into Friday, bringing the possibility of strong thunderstorms, as well as waterspouts and small tornadoes along the coast. Robert Galbraith/Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Pacific storm pounded Southern California with heavy rain and high winds on Friday, triggering flash floods and mudslides that prompted the evacuation of hundreds of homes, damaged dozens of others and disrupted passenger rail service along the coast.

One person was found dead on Friday in a rain-swollen flood-control channel in the Orange County town of Garden Grove, which could mark the third storm-related fatality on the West Coast since Thursday.

Separately, rescue teams saved two people after they were swept away in the fast-moving Los Angeles River near a homeless encampment, the Los Angeles Fire Department said in Twitter messages.

The Ventura County Fire Department said its personnel responded to 37 calls for assistance due to flooding and a second-story balcony collapsed in the Los Angeles suburb of Long Beach.

High winds tore down power lines throughout the region, leaving 78,000 customers without electricity after the storm moved in before dawn, utility officials reported.

The National Weather Service warned that thunderstorms and even tornadoes were possible as the storm front advanced, and that a water spout was sighted over the ocean near Los Angeles International Airport on Friday morning.

The same storm system pummeled the Pacific Northwest and the northern half of California on Thursday with torrential downpours and gale-force gusts that caused widespread power outages and disrupted commercial flights in San Francisco.

One of the areas hardest hit on Friday was the Ventura County community of Camarillo Springs, north of Los Angeles, where boulder-strewn rivers of mud swept down hillsides that a wildfire had stripped of vegetation last year.

Eighteen houses were deemed uninhabitable, eight of them sustaining heavy structural damage, according to meteorologist Mark Jackson, who was monitoring the situation from the National Weather Service office in nearby Oxnard.


Jackson said a mound of rocks was piled up against one house to its roof, and that rain had been falling at a rate of nearly 2 inches (5 cm) an hour before the slide hit. Authorities ordered people evacuated from 124 houses judged to be at risk.

About 1,000 homes were placed under evacuation orders in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendora, where mudslides from a wildfire-burned area there left several roads impassable overnight, police Lieutenant Matt Williams said.

He said emergency crews rescued one motorist whose truck became caught in the muck.

Severe weather prompted Amtrak to suspend service on its Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight routes between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo, 150 miles to the north, the passenger rail line said. But service was restored to both lines hours later.

The highest rainfall measured on Friday was at San Marcos Pass, just north of Santa Barbara, where more than 5 inches (12 cm) fell, Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Kattell said.

Harsh weather also hit Washington state and Oregon, where more than 200,000 customers were without power as of early Friday, according to local utility companies.

In southern Oregon, a homeless man camping with his 18-year-old son was killed on Thursday morning when a tree toppled onto their tent. Portland police said a tree fell on a car that then swerved into another tree, killing the teenage passenger and seriously injuring the adult driver.

It was not known whether the body recovered in Garden Grove was a weather-related fatality or a victim who had died from some other cause and was washed into the flood channel, officials said.

The storm was expected to provide little relief from California's record, multi-year drought that has forced water managers to sharply reduce irrigation supplies to farmers and prompted drastic conservation measures statewide, Jackson said.