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Huge storm floods Laguna Beach, traps residents; O.C. evacuations underway [Updated]

December 22, 2010 |  8:10 am

Orange County was battered by heavy rains overnight that flooded downtown Laguna Beach, closed major roadways and prompted rescues in canyon areas. A sheriff's official says Modjeska, Silverado and Santiago canyons are now being evacuated due to mudslides.

The city was hit hard, with mud and rock slides closing Laguna Canyon Road and heavy runoff washing away some of the main beach area.

A storm-drain channel that normally diverted excess water beneath downtown Laguna Beach and into the ocean was surging over its barriers, bursting onto Beach Street, pulling down a chain-link fence and sending water spraying up to 15 feet into the air.

“There are rivers coming through town, and they’ve washed out the north end of our beach,” said Jeff Grubert, 48, an entertainment distribution company manager who has an office in Laguna Beach.

Standing on the stretch of boardwalk where tidal flows were pushing mounds of debris just beneath his feet, Grubert said, “It’s humbling.”

Laguna Beach officials urged residents and workers to avoid the downtown areas, saying flooding was "extensive." A statement from the police department said officials were rescuing stranded residents.

Numerous roads around Southern California were partially or fully closed, including Ortega Highway, Brea Boulevard, the toll road California 241 and Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach. Portions of PCH were also closed in Huntington Beach and Malibu. Rising water at the Whittier Narrows dam prompted the closure of San Gabriel Boulevard.

In Silverado Canyon, the Orange County Fire Authority was responding to reports of rock and boulder slides. Silverado has experienced major flooding and rock slides in previous heavy downpours. Orange County Sheriff's Spokesman Jim Amormino said Modjeska, Silverado and Santiago canyons were being evacuated because of mudslides.

In Irvine, the Orange County Fire Authority reported it had rescued a woman whose car went into a rain-swollen wash.

A transition road to the 10-71-57 interchange in Pomona was closed after being hit by mud and rockslides.

A mudslide has closed Metrolink and Amtrak routes between San Juan Capistrano and Oceanside, causing service delays.

Click here for an interactive explainer on mudslides So far, the hillsides in La Cañada-Flintridge and La Crescenta burned in the Station fire are holding up.

The incidents came as Los Angeles braced for more rain. Wednesday's storm was projected to be the most intense of the week, the result of a powerful, cold storm from the Gulf of Alaska colliding with a river of subtropical moisture from the western Pacific Ocean.

[Updated at 8:45 a.m.: Officials said lightning, small hail and waterspouts were possible later Wednesday as the storm moved through.]


Storm could bring hail, lightning and waterspouts later Wednesday

Laguna Beach shop owners assess damage during break in the rain

Sheriff's officials warn residents in La Crescenta and other foothill communities to keep roads clear

-- Louis Sahagun in Laguna Beach, Nardine Saad in Silverado Canyon and Rong-Gong Lin II, Kate Linthicum and Richard Winton in Los Angeles

Photo: Broadway Street in downtown Laguna Beach turned into a runoff channel feeding into the Main Beach area Wednesday morning. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times