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Latest storm brings traffic nightmare, more flooding to L.A. [Updated]

January 20, 2010 |  6:46 pm


As the third storm of the week passed through Southern California, it left damage and traffic nightmares.

Street flooding was reported across the region, including in Burbank, the Bixby Knolls section of Long Beach, areas south of Long Beach Airport, as well as Sunland and San Pedro.

The storm ripped part of the roof off an industrial building in Paramount and flooded the southbound 710 Freeway around Alondra Boulevard. Flooding was also reported on the 710 near Willow Street in Long Beach. [Updated at 6:35 p.m.: The California Highway Patrol said the 405 Freeway south is flooded in Long Beach at Spring Street and that traffic was being diverted.]

Other freeways reported less serious flooding, producing a grim evening commute.

The California Highway Patrol closed the 5 Freeway earlier today at the Grapevine because of snow. Interstate 5 was reopened to traffic with CHP escorts. But officials shut down Interstate 15 at the Cajon Pass due to difficult weather conditions.

Cal State Long Beach said it would close this afternoon and all of Thursday. Some schools closed in the La Crescenta and La Cañada Flintridge area.

Officials issued a flash flood watch and thunderstorm warning for the region, forecasting sustained rainfall and fierce winds. Forecasters say the strongest drenching could occur Thursday, with up to 3 inches of rain and the possible return of tornado-like conditions.

The National Weather Service has also issued a high-surf advisory and a coastal flood warning for Los Angeles County beaches. Meteorologist Jamie Meier predicted waves as high as 20 feet and winds as strong as 60 mph, compared with 6- to 10-foot surf and peak gusts of 30 mph Tuesday.

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 planned to order the evacuation of about 500 homes in La Crescenta, La Cañada Flintridge and Acton. The evacuations were to have begun at 9 a.m. and been 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 probably remain in effect through Monday morning.

Glendale ordered more than 300 homes evacuated.

Two Southwest Airlines Boeing 737s were struck by lightning during their flights today but landed safely at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. One flight attendant who complained of pain in her arm was taken to a hospital for examination, authorities said.

The airliners, which were flying to Burbank from Sacramento and Oakland, landed at 9:38 a.m. and 9:57 a.m., said Marilee McInnis, a spokeswoman for Southwest. Both planes were taken out of service to be checked for possible damage.

Warning that lives could be at risk, Villaraigosa pleaded today with residents in mudslide-prone foothill areas to evacuate and said the city could be looking at a “La Conchita situation” if the intense rains move in as forecast. Ten people were killed in La Conchita in 2005 when the hillside above the small Ventura County community collapsed.

Joined at a late morning news conference by Police Chief Charlie Beck and Fire Chief Millage Peaks, the mayor said hillside communities from Glendale to Sunland were at greatest risk.

“We’re asking you to work with us on this,” the mayor said.

In the quiet and fog-covered La Cañada Flintridge neighborhood of Paradise Valley, Debby Mahoney, 57, stood in front of her Bristow Drive home during one of the brief interludes in the heavy rain.

Two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies approached her, and one of them carried a form. But Mahoney, a business manager, told them she had already signed the form, which confirmed her decision not to heed the evacuation order.

She reasoned that she would be safe from flooding or mudslides because her home is on a hill and one of the many debris basins is beneath the hill.

“It’s not logical that gravity goes up hill," she said.

Months earlier, she had evacuated when the Station fire brought raging flames to within feet of her home. But this time she plans to stay at home with her four cats. “A hotel room with four cats; what a mess,” Mahoney said. “We have a generator and lots of food; there’s no reason to leave.”

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

Tuesday's storm was brief and intense, as coastal areas were subjected to hail, 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.

-- Ann M. Simmons and Louis Sahagun in La Cañada Flintridge, Jeff Gottlieb in Hermosa Beach, Paloma Esquivel in Seal Beach and Kimi Yoshino, Rong Gong Lin II and Richard Winton in Los Angeles

Photo: Vehicles drive around two cars stalled at the flooded intersection of San Fernando Road and Tuxford Street in Sun Valley during the third storm in as many days in Southern California. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times