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Flooding, heavy winds, tornadoes possible as new storm arrives in L.A.

January 20, 2010 |  6:47 am


Southern Californians are bracing for this week's third storm, with forecasters predicting up to 5 more inches of rain over the next two days and officials ordering hundreds of residents to leave their homes for up to four days.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch and thunderstorm warning for the region, forecasting sustained rainfall and fierce winds. Scattered showers began this morning, but the main front of this storm was expected to hit around noon.

Forecasters say the strongest drenching could occur Thursday, with up to 3 inches of rain and the possible return of tornado-like conditions.

In anticipation of mudslides, the Los Angeles Police Department issued evacuation orders in the northeastern San Fernando Valley, where residents in 262 homes were supposed to leave by 9 a.m. 

"We're asking you to please cooperate," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a news conference at Fire Station 81 in Panorama City. "There's too many people not heeding advice."

Also, this morning authorities plan to order the evacuation of about 500 homes in La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge and Acton. The evacuations will begin at 9 a.m. and are to be completed by 1 p.m. A full list of the addresses of homes affected by the evacuation is available on the Coordinated Agency Recovery Effort (CARE) website. Officials said the evacuations will likely remain in effect through Monday morning.

High surf also is expected, prompting officials to close some local piers.

"With the first two storms, we got lucky," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. "Wednesday could be horrendous. Monday we got the right jab. Tuesday we got the left jab. Wednesday we could get the haymaker to the chin."

So far, two fatalities have been blamed on the series of storms. An El Cajon woman was fatally crushed Tuesday afternoon when the passing storm uprooted a tree, which fell on her. On Monday night, a 100-foot tree crashed to the ground, crushing a Frazier Park man and his home.

Tuesday's storm was brief and intense, pummeling coastal areas with hail, ice, thunder, lightning and powerful winds for about two hours before giving way to sunshine and rainbows.

The National Weather Service recorded at least one tornado, four waterspouts and gale-force winds of up to 80 mph as the fast-moving storm swept through the Los Angeles Basin. Some witnesses said they spotted tornadoes in Costa Mesa and Goleta.

The force of the storm ripped several roofs off buildings, shattered windows and displaced about 40 people in San Pedro. Chest-high water gushed through the streets so quickly that it stranded drivers on the 710 Freeway in Long Beach and swallowed cars in parts of Belmont Heights.

Rescue crews spent hours in Long Beach and Orange County plucking residents out of flooded cars and homes.

Lightning struck the ConocoPhillips refinery in Wilmington, sparking a small fire in one of the stacks. Wind swept through Costa Mesa and took chunks of several buildings with it.

A possible tornado "touched down on the building across from us and ripped off the paper and insulation and flung it into the street, landed into our building and ripped the skylight off," said Charlie Rose, 29, publisher of  independent music magazine L.A. Record, whose office is in Costa Mesa at Whittier Avenue and 17th Street.

At Peter's Landing Marina in Huntington Harbour, manager Scott Seaton watched through the window as a "cyclone" came over the building and touched down in the marina. At one point, Seaton watched it pick up a 40-foot catamaran, twirl it several feet in the air, then drop it on top of another boat.

"It was just amazing watching that thing dance up in the air," Seaton said. "As quick as it came, it was gone. I can't even imagine seeing a monster one because this thing seemed so powerful. . . . It was just unbelievable."

Chad Zarndt said he felt "violent shaking. I've never seen anything like this here in O.C."

Nearby, the tornado lifted a parked SUV and sent it crashing to the ground, its windows shattering.

In Long Beach, the problem was rising water.

Isaac Chavira, 25, who lives in a two-bedroom, ground-floor apartment at 8th Street and Bennett Avenue in Long Beach, said he had just put his 19-month old daughter down for a nap around noon when brown muddy water started seeping through his door. He peered out the window and saw water and debris running down the street "like a river."

Eventually, the water reached his shins.

"I kind of panicked," he said. He opened the windows and yelled, "What do I do?" to his neighbors.

-- Robert J. Lopez and Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: Mark Silvano, 58, a volunteer who is the eyes and ears of the L.A. Fire Department in emergency situations, keeps watch on Blanchard Canyon Road in Tujunga. People living in Blanchard Canyon are under evacuation orders because of the threat of mudslides.Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angele Times

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