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Planet Ark World Environment News Winter Storm Pounds Southern California Again

Date: 22-Jan-10
Country: US
Author: Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb

Winter Storm Pounds Southern California Again

LOS ANGELES - The fourth in a string of winter storms, said to be the heaviest to hit Southern California in five years, swept into the area on Thursday, and 800 homes remained evacuated under threat of mudslides.

The storms, lashing the Golden State since Sunday night, unleashed torrential rains that flooded low-lying roads, waves as high as 25 feet that eroded beaches and snow in mountains areas that forced closure of an interstate highway.

Utility crews worked to restore power to some 14,000 homes and businesses in San Diego that lost electricity due to downed trees and power lines.

The desert resort city of Palm Springs has received half its average annual rainfall this week, and at least two deaths have been attributed to the storms, including a 21-year-old man crushed when a tall tree toppled onto his house.

But one of the biggest concerns remained the stability of steep hillsides and canyons north of Los Angeles, which were stripped bare of vegetation by a massive wildfire last summer and saturated by heavy rains this week.

Authorities went door to door on Wednesday urging the residents of roughly 800 homes -- about 2,000 people -- to leave the area as a precaution, and the evacuation remained in effect on Thursday.

"We're not out of the woods yet, We've still got this fourth storm into late afternoon producing significant rainfall," Los Angeles County Fire Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.

Nishida said two houses in the community of La Canada-Flintridge had sustained damage from mud and other debris washed downhill by heavy rains, but no injuries were reported.

The overwhelming majority of residents were heeding the evacuation order, she said.

National Weather Service meteorologists said the storms, destructive though welcome after a three-year drought, marked the heaviest such weather front to strike Southern California since at least 2005.

Interstate 5, the major artery connecting Southern California to northern parts of the state, was shut down because of snow at a mountain pass.

The Weather Service said that at 8:20 a.m. (1620 GMT) it had recorded a barometric pressure at Los Angeles International Airport of 29.20, the lowest ever recorded.

Records have been kept since 1931.

(Editing by Paul Simao)

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