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Widespread flooding reported across region; Qualcomm Stadium flooded; Corona airport submerged

December 22, 2010 |  1:50 pm

Southern California was struggling with widespread flooding and scattered mudslides as a seventh straight day of rain pounded the region.

The storms trapped residents in cars and homes over a wide area, caused a bridge collapse in San Bernardino County and flooded the Corona Municipal Airport. Forecasters warned of scattered but intense bursts of rain and thunder through the afternoon. Officials say they hope conditions will settle down by Wednesday evening.

Conditions were tough in San Diego County, where media reports say that SeaWorld was shut down and rains flooded the Qualcomm Stadium football field a day before the Poinsettia Bowl. TV footage showed a dramatic rescue of guests at a Mission Valley hotel where floodwaters were approaching the tops of car roofs.

Flash flood warnings were issued for local areas burned by recent fires and for the eastern San Gabriel Valley and east of Palm Springs.

A small mudslide hit La Conchita, the site of deadly mudslide several years ago. No injuries have been reported in that Ventura County community.

Heavy downpours, from Santa Barbara to San Diego, pummeled the Southland. The violent weather delivered some of its first blows to Orange County in predawn hours, powered by the collision of a mass of cool air from the Pacific Northwest and a flow of intense subtropical moisture from eastern Asia.

La-me-big-rains Evacuations were ordered in Dove Canyon, parts of San Juan Capistrano and at Silverado and surrounding Orange County canyons, with some homes damaged by mud and water. Highland in San Bernardino County also saw home damage caused by thick mud flows.

Laguna Beach found its downtown street awash in mud, debris and roiling waters. The heavy downpours contributed to the death of an unidentified female pedestrian, who was struck and killed by a sport utility vehicle as she crossed South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach just before daybreak, police reported.

Elsewhere in Laguna Canyon, neighbors were using ropes to try to pull out cars that were buried in mud. In some portions of the canyon, there were rows of cars that were caught in a flash flood and abandoned. Some homes were filled with mud that stood 4 feet deep indoors.

An Orange County driver spun off the 5 Freeway in Irvine and plunged into a flood-control channel, officials said. The motorist managed to call 911 on his cellphone as his car was filling up with water. Rescue workers plucked the man, suffering from hypothermia, from the rain-swollen channel and whisked him to the hospital.

"It was pretty dramatic," said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Greg McKeown.

The drama rumbled across the Santa Ana Mountains community of Silverado Canyon in eastern Orange County. What sounded like thunder was actually floodwater-driven boulders tumbling down the steep slope.

"When you hear the boulders going 'bang, bang, bang,' you know there's going to be problems," said Steve Eighart, a Silverado Canyon resident working on a makeshift dam to protect his home and a neighboring community center. "I had water up to the windows in the back of the house."

Authorities issued an evacuation order for residents in Silverado Canyon, parts of Modjeska Canyon, Santiago Canyon and San Juan Capistrano.

"They've just been in the line of fire from a series of rainfall cells," said meteorologist Jamie Meier of the National Weather Service.

"That low [pressure system] has finally moved to just off of our coast, and the more energetic part of that system" has arrived, Meier said. "We're still in a very volatile situation."

The powerful storm cells over the eastern San Gabriel Valley and Orange County have now moved inland toward the Riverside and Ontario areas.

More than 15 inches of rain have dropped over the Station fire burn area in the San Gabriel Mountains, with one area -- Tanbark Flats above La Verne -- recording 21 inches of rain in the last seven days. Those mountain areas remain at risk for debris flows, which could send water, soil and rocks tumbling out of the mountains onto foothill residential neighborhoods as fast as 35 mph.

Some residents of La Cañada Flintridge refused to evacuate as sheriff's deputies went door to door urging them to get out. Some said they felt lucky after surviving a gully-washer in February.

"We don't mind the rain at all. It's the mud that's catastrophic and will get you," Dale Reavis, 50, a plumber who lives on Earnslow Drive in La Cañada Flintridge. So far, he said, this storm hadn't brought the havoc of the last one.

"When you've got lemons, make lemonade," said Skeet McAuley, 59, a neighbor, who lost a car in February. This time, he parked his car closer to the street in case he had to evacuate quickly.

But the worst is not over yet, officials said. After daybreak, heavy showers sat over Los Angeles County and could still bring small hail, frequent lightning and possible waterspouts and small tornadoes, meteorologists warned.

Rainfall rates of up to two-thirds of an inch per hour have been detected, with some heavier bursts seen in a few areas.

"The threat is still there," Meier said. Energetic rain is expected to continue through Wednesday afternoon.


Latest photos: Series of storms hits Southern California

Sheriff's officials warn foothill communities to keep roads clear

Laguna Beach shop owners assess damage during break in the rain

-- Nardine Saad and Sam Quinones reporting from Silverado Canyon, Louis Sahagun reporting from Laguna Beach and Andrew Blankstein, Kate Linthicum, Hector Becerra, Rong-Gong Lin II and Ken Weiss reporting from Los Angeles

Photo: Orange County urban search and rescue team members check out a Porsche trapped amid surging water on Wednesday. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times