Hillsides collapse as storms continue

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Axl Dominguez awoke early Wednesday to a bumping sound and looked out the window to a scary sight: plastic trashcans floating down the flooded street.

And then the water came rushing into his house.

“We didn’t have time to get anything. It happened really fast,” the 15-year-old said, shivering in shorts, a mud-splashed sweat shirt and bare feet as he waited to go with his family to an evacuation center. “Water started coming in from all the walls. Then the wall fell and we got out through the window.”

The tail end of a storm that dumped rain on Southern California for nearly a week gave the region one final lashing, burying houses and cars in mud, washing hillsides onto highways, flooding urban streets and threatening dozens of canyon homes.

Inflatable boats were used to rescue dozens of motorists and homeowners from flooded streets, hotels and hillsides, while others refused to leave their homes as filthy water and mud sliced through their neighborhoods.

The storm weakened as it moved eastward, but floods still washed away homes in Arizona and inundated parts of Nevada and Utah.

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

The storm turned the final days before Christmas into a nightmare, and left some residents fearful that more and bigger mudslides could strike the wildfire-scarred hillsides in suburban Los Angeles even after the skies cleared.

Officials on Tuesday 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.

“The ground is so saturated it could move at any time” and the threat will remain for several weeks, said Bob Spencer, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

In San Diego, the first floor of the Premier Inn in the city’s Mission Valley flooded, forcing guests to the second floor where lifeguards were sent to rescue them, police said. SeaWorld San Diego closed for the day as waters rose in the nearby San Diego River, but it was expected to reopen on Thursday.

Sixty people were rescued and more than 30 homes evacuated when water surged through Dove Canyon, a gated Orange County community.

In Highland, about 65 miles east of Los Angeles, two creeks overflowed, swamping as many as 20 homes in up to 3 feet of mud. Up to 40 homes and around 100 residents have been evacuated.

Los Angeles County health officials warned residents to be careful through Thursday of polluted water around storm drains, creeks and rivers. The environmental group Heal the Bay said ocean water could remain contaminated with bacteria for much longer than that.

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