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Hillsides collapse as storm lashes SoCal

By Raquel Maria Dillon

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 22 2010 8:50 p.m. MST

Kurt Vest, right, a regional engineer with Utah State Water Rights Office, the state department that oversees dam safety, Nathan Moses, assistant regional engineer with the Utah State Water Rights Office and Corey Cram, a representative of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, from right, inspect the Trees Ranch Dam Tuesday Dec. 21, 2010 in Springdale, Utah. Seepage from the front of the dam had county officials worried that a breach of the dam might occur but Vest and Moses' inspection indicated that the dam was not in any immediate danger of failing.

The Spectrum, Jud Burkett, Associated Press

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. — 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 ... Water started coming in from all the walls. Then the wall fell and we got out through the window," the 15-year-old Dominguez said hours later, shivering in shorts, a mud-splashed sweat shirt and bare feet as he carried his pajama-clad little brother to the truck of a neighbor who finally took them to an evacuation center.

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, threatening dozens of canyon homes and spreading filthy water that prompted the closure of 12 miles of Orange County beaches.

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

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

The low-pressure system could be in New Mexico by Thursday and 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.

More than 200 homes were evacuated for at least 24 hours 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.

Few residents heeded the evacuation orders, which were lifted Thursday evening as the driving rain eased.

It's the same area 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.

Olivia Brown, 45, left her Paradise Valley home in the La Canada Flintridge area around midnight.

"I'm worried about a rock coming down on the house," Brown said at a Red Cross shelter. "My husband stayed home with two of our dogs. He had to be a man, you know, and hold down the fort.

"When he's nervous, it makes me nervous. I had to go," she said.

In Silverado Canyon, in the Santa Ana Mountains in eastern Orange County, Mary Adams and her husband got up in the middle of the night to check for mudslide danger as rains pounded the hill above them.

They had just crawled back into bed at 3:30 a.m. when they heard a low, dull roar and then the echoing boom of boulders tumbling into a creek.

Adams, 54, jumped from bed to see a small river of mud, rocks and debris sweep past her side door, whisking the couple's travel trailer 100 feet down the hill and filling their garage and succulent garden with thick ooze.

On Wednesday morning, the rain was still coming down hard as Adams surveyed the damage. The sound of falling rocks still rang out every few minutes as the rain poured down outside.

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