Storm drenches drought-parched California


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A storm front that closed schools and snarled Northern California traffic moved south Friday, drenching the Los Angeles area with brief but fierce downpours that sent hikers up a tree and prompted a spate of flood advisories.

The afternoon rain fell in torrents in foothill areas, dumping nearly a quarter-inch in five minutes in the northeastern suburb of La Canada Flintridge, the National Weather Service reported.

In Los Angeles, a power line fell on a car in the San Fernando Valley, trapping the driver until the line could be de-energized so firefighters could move in for a rescue, fire department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said.

In the Hollywood Hills, firefighters rescued two hikers who climbed a tree and were afraid to risk a rain-soaked trail on Mulholland Drive, Stewart said.

However, no major flooding was reported, she said.

Locals suffering through years of drought and a dry winter were happy to see the wet weather.

“I love the smell, the fresh clean air because it takes the dirt out of the air. I like seeing it. It’s been awhile,” Peer Swan, a board member of the Irvine Ranch Water District, told KABC-TV. “I’m afraid that when I have to walk up to my car without an umbrella I’m going to get drenched, but I don’t mind.”

Skies began to ease after a few hours, but forecasters also warned of gusty winds – potentially reaching 60 to 75 mph – in some mountains and deserts with some snow in the mountains.

The storm was expected to move south and east before leaving the state Saturday.

Northern California was hard hit earlier. Schools were shuttered, and residents snapped up sandbags. Nearly 400 flights were delayed because of weather at San Francisco International Airport and about 75 were canceled, most of them smaller planes, officials said.

Roads were closed because of floods and mudslides. The closures included a portion of California Highway 1 in Mendocino County where overnight slides nearly toppled a California Department of Transportation dump truck with an employee inside. The truck hit a guardrail – stopping its fall – and landed at a 45-degree angle. The employee was uninjured.

Scattered power outages affected several thousand people.

The latest in a series of storms moved in Thursday night, adding more moisture to an already wet March that has resulted in mudslides and swollen creeks. A mudslide was likely to blame for a commuter train that derailed east of San Francisco on Monday, injuring nine.

Bobby Rehfeldt of Goodman Building Supply off U.S. 101 in Mill Valley, said Friday that most of the customers in the busy store were thrilled with the rain, although some are understandably unhappy about leaks.

“Lots of people are buying tarps and roof patch and heat guns to dry stuff up, anything for getting water off the ground, and sandbags are flying out of here,” he said. “It’s just rain, and we need it.”

California is entering its fifth year of drought, and water watchers say anything helps, although it will take years of normal or above-normal rainfall to right the deficit.

Rain moved down the Central Coast and into Southern California during the morning, but only a few sprinkles fell during the funeral for former first lady Nancy Reagan at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, northwest of Los Angeles. A waterproof tent behind the library shielded those attending the service.

Minutes after the service ended, the skies unleashed a blustery downpour and mourners pulled out umbrellas as they filed past her coffin.

In Northern California, snow is forecast in the Sierra Nevada throughout the weekend. The Sierra snowpack normally stores about 30 percent of California’s water supply.

Several Sonoma County schools closed Friday because of fears that the Russian River would flood. But by the afternoon, forecasters had cancelled warnings for major rivers.

Still, the Russian River was running high and fast Friday with vineyards submerged and streets closed. At a trailer park in Forestville mere feet from the river, a resident was moving his dog and trailer to drier land.


AP Photographer Eric Risberg contributed to this report. Antczak reported from Los Angeles.

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