California braces for storm

After days of relentless rain, Southern California is awaiting the most intense storm system yet, with evacuations ordered, roads covered by water and mud, and residents anxiously eyeing already saturated

Ralph Voehl delivers sandbags to protect the home of a fellow resident in Modjeska Canyon

Ralph Voehl delivers sandbags to protect the home of a fellow resident in Modjeska Canyon

LOS ANGELES — After days of relentless rain, Southern California is awaiting the most intense storm system yet, with evacuations ordered, roads covered by water and mud, and residents anxiously eyeing already saturated mountainsides denuded by wildfires.

Forecasters expected more rain across the state Wednesday, but the focus clearly was on Southern California where a monster storm was expected to bring torrential rain, thunderstorms, flooding, hail and possible tornadoes and water spouts. Forecasters warned of possible rainfall rates of 20 to 25 millimetres an hour and thunderstorm rates of 50 millimetres an hour in the region.

Steady rain began falling late Tuesday and was expected to intensify into early Wednesday.

“It’s going to be a three-ring circus,” said National Weather Service spokesman Bill Hoffer. “There’s going to be a six-hour time frame in the early morning when it’s really going to be dumping on us.”

A rain-soaked hillside collapsed on part of a busy Interstate 10 transition road as overwhelmed drains left hubcap-deep pools of water on roadways littered with fender-bender crashes. The landslide covered three lanes of the transition to State Route 57 in the Pomona area, and the California Highway Patrol shut down part of the ramp before Wednesday morning’s rush hour.

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

Walt Kalepsch said his backyard filled with mud and debris last winter, but he planned to stay the night with his wife and daughter.

“If it gets really terrible, we’ll leave. But we’ve been evacuated so many times, it’s like the city’s crying wolf,” he said. “During the rest of the year, it’s absolutely gorgeous. It was just one big wildfire that changed everything.”

As the “Pineapple Express” system swept Pacific Ocean moisture across Nevada, Arizona and Utah, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in six counties.

The huge and powerful low pressure system off the West Coast pushed precipitation right into the Great Basin.

“It takes a lot of energy to push that moisture over the mountains,” said NWS meteorologist Dave Bruno. “This kind of storm could march right across the country and create a lot of bad weather along the way. It could affect the Southern Plains on Thursday and Friday. If it sticks together it’ll hit Florida by Saturday.”

Downtown Los Angeles received more than a third of its annual average rainfall in less than a week.

For all the perils of the torrential rains, there was a silver lining: The water is expected to help ease the effects of years of drought. Thursday is expected to be dry, with sunshine. There will be light rain on Christmas Day in parts of California.

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