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Evacuations lifted in some foothill communities; snow blankets mountains [Updated]

January 22, 2010 | 12:39 pm

Residents evacuated from foothill neighborhoods during this week's rainstorms are being allowed to return to their homes as officials have begun assessing the damage.

"California has been pounded by a series of winter storms and rains," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during a news conference in Los Angeles. "The storms brought wind gusts of up to 80 miles [an hour] across the mountains and the canyons, major highways and roads were closed, flights have been grounded, thousands of homes and businesses lost power, more than 2,100 homes were evacuated. Sadly and unfortunately, some people lost their lives."

Skiers and snowboarders looking to take advantage of 2 to 3 feet of snow dumped across Southern California’s mountains may want to wait until next week when another 6 to 12 inches is expected to fall, weather experts said.

Snow levels across the Southern California mountains were expected to reach about 3,000 feet today and possibly as low as 2,500 feet, according to a National Weather Service official.

Some of the roads to Big Bear remained closed because of heavy snow and cars were stuck on Highway 330. “On these types of days you got everybody wanting to get up there with their snowboards,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Tommy Cunningham.

Bear Mountain resort closed its doors for the day because of electrical power problems and “too much snow,” said Dallas Goldsmith, manager of a local ski and snowboard shop.

By this morning, six customers had wandered into his shop.

“But next weekend,” he said, “business will get fantastic.”

In Orange County, snow was creeping down to the 4,000-feet mark at Santiago Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains.

Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency today in San Bernardino County. On Thursday, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown (acting as governor because Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders were in Washington, D.C.) issued similar declarations in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco and Siskiyou counties. Such moves cut through red tape and allow access to federal funds. 

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the cooperation of city, county, state and federal authorities prevented the storms from causing worse damage.

“We’ve been very, very fortunate in no small part because of preparation,” he said.

Crews have begun cleaning streets clogged with mud and debris, and engineers and geologists are examining the stability of hillsides, he said.

[Updated at 1:55 p.m.: In Vernon, search and rescue crews rescued a dog trapped in a channel of the swollen Los Angeles River].

Meantime, evacuated residents began returning to their homes.

The Los Angeles Fire Department lifted evacuation orders for the Sunland-Tujunga area, and county officials are allowing residents back into parts of La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge. [Updated at 2:24 p.m.: County officials lifted evacuation orders for portions of Acton.]

To see which streets have been cleared for re-entry, see the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works' website.

-- Seema Mehta

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