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Rainstorms left scores of Southland homes and businesses damaged

December 23, 2010 | 11:19 am

A huge storm has left 26 homes in the Inland Empire city of Highland severely damaged and damaged more than 20 businesses and at least 18 homes in Laguna Beach.

Southern California was drying up Thursday after days of rain, but another storm could be bringing more rain as soon as Christmas Day.

Officials in Highland in San Bernardino County have evacuated two areas in the eastern part of town and remain concerned that a 100-foot bluff could collapse, threatening about 140 homes.

Fire department crews laid out 7,000 sandbags overnight to protect homes in the bluff area from mud sloughing downhill, but their real concern is the bluff itself.

Geologists recommended an evacuation, which began about 3 p.m. Wednesday and remains in effect, said Bill Peters, a spokesman for California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Most of the damage so far is elsewhere in the Plunge Creek drainage area, where homes and cars are buried in up to four feet of mud. The water rose so quickly that about two dozen residents had to be rescued; 20 homes were “totally inundated,” Peters said.

But except for the evacuated areas, all parts of town were accessible by mid-morning Thursday, although officials cautioned motorists to be patient and expect delays. The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at Immanuel Baptist Church, where 18 people spent the night.

In other storm news:

--A Menifee woman was found dead in her car Wednesday afternoon after her vehicle had been swept away in storm waters in Riverside County, authorities said. The body of Angela Marie Wright, 39, was discovered by sheriff's deputies in her car around 4 p.m. in the Canyon Lake area, said dispatcher Marissa Gurganious of the Sheriff’s Department.

--City crews worked through the night to remove water from the rain-soaked field at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, site of Thursday night's Poinsettia Bowl. The city-owned stadium had been flooded by the pounding rains of earlier in the week.

--Evacuation orders were lifted in Laguna Beach on Thursday morning, but some homes and businesses suffered substantial damage and access to a few largely residential areas remained impeded by mudslides. Crews were scrambling to get the downtown area fully open for business in hopes of salvaging what's left of the holiday shopping season. Mud and water flows damaged 26 businesses, but most if not all expect to be reopened Thursday, said Lt. Jason Kravetz of the Laguna Beach Police Department.

According to the National Weather Service, Thursday and Friday will see mostly sunny skies with highs in the low 60s. But on Christmas Day, clouds will arrive and there will be a 50% chance of rain. Clouds and possible rain will continue Sunday into Monday.

But this latest storm would be mild compared with the pounding Southern California has taken over the past week.

ALSO:

Next storm could move into L.A. on Christmas Day

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Daniel Sanchez, 24, looks at his 2007 Toyota Camry buried in mud on Tyler Street caused by heavy rains in Highland. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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