California flooding forces evacuation in farm belt

Days of record-setting rain have put 400-500 homes in danger

Published December 20, 2010 9:06PM (EST)

Authorities say major flooding in California's San Joaquin Valley is forcing evacuation of 2,000 residents of the farming community of McFarland.

The evacuation was called Monday after days of record-setting rain in California.

Kern County fire spokesman Sean Collins estimates between 400 and 500 homes are in danger of flooding in McFarland.

The source of the flooding is not clear but may be from overflowing irrigation canals that supply water to farms.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A storm pounding California with record rain and heavy snow spawned minor flooding, mudslides, small evacuations and road closures Monday, but forecasters warned that the bad weather's worst impact may be yet to come.

Virtually the entire state was affected, from coastal cities to the Central Valley, Sierra Nevada and southern deserts. Rainfall records fell, numerous traffic accidents snarled roads, trees tumbled and even some horse races had to be canceled.

Some locations in Southern California received more than 12 inches of rain, said meteorologist Jamie Meier of the National Weather Service. It was the most rainfall in one storm event since 2005, he said.

The storm was expected to intensify Tuesday night and Wednesday, with between five and 10 more inches.

"That will make for a pretty good wallop, especially considering how dry things have been for the last two years," Meier said.

In the Sierra, the Sugar Bowl ski resort received as much as 60 inches of snow at upper elevations.

Elsewhere, a 20-mile stretch of scenic Pacific Coast Highway between Malibu and Oxnard was closed to commuters after a rock and mudslide Sunday night. The California Highway Patrol said no one was hurt. PCH also was closed for a time in Orange County by a mudslide at Dana Point.

Eastbound Highway 71 in Pomona was closed because of potholes and flooding, and a number of mountain roads were closed.

The stormy weather began hitting the northern part of the state late Thursday and southern areas on Friday, after a large storm front moving out of the Gulf of Alaska met with subtropical, moist air coming across the Pacific Ocean.

In the southern San Joaquin Valley there was sporadic flooding of single-family homes but no deaths or injuries had been reported, said Kern County Fire Department spokesman Sean Collins. Ten people were evacuated Monday from three homes in Weldon due to flooding from a creek, and extensive flooding of farmland was occurring in the Lamont area, possibly due to a failure of a dike.

The Los Angeles area, including downtown, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, received 3 inches to 4 inches of rainfall, while mountain areas got much more. In Monterey County, Three Peaks recorded 13.74 inches between Thursday evening and Sunday night.

Rainfall records weren't just broken, they were obliterated. The weather service said 3.45 inches of rain fell in Pasadena on Sunday, shattering the old mark of 1.5 inches on the same date in 1987. Since the storm began, the city had received more than 5 inches as of early Monday.

On the Central Coast, the Santa Maria River briefly overran its banks Sunday and caused flooding in Guadalupe in Santa Barbara County, forcing an underdetermined number of people to leave their homes.

The Santa Maria Times reported the high waters began receding in the evening. Gibraltar Reservoir on the Santa Ynez River had risen more than 4 feet since the storm began, the county Office of Emergency Services said.

Flash-flood warnings were in effect for some places, particularly mountain areas still scarred by wildfires.

Residents of La Canada Flintridge were among those keeping a wary eye on the rain after a 250-square-mile wildfire last year denuded towering slopes above communities along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

More than 40 homes in the hillside city just north of Los Angeles were damaged or destroyed by a mudslide in February.

"We are holding up," said resident Lien Yang, who added he was warned to be prepared to evacuate. "It's coming down steady but not pouring. Therefore it doesn't cause a mud flow or flooding or anything like that."

Neighbor Tom Smith spent part of Sunday placing sandbags in front of his house.

The rain even made it risky for racehorses to run. Hollywood Park canceled its final seven races Sunday after rain made a section of turf leading to the main track too dangerous to navigate.

In Woodland Hills, north of Los Angeles, a eucalyptus tree crashed onto the roof of a home, while a 40-foot tree fell onto an apartment building in Glendale. No injuries were reported.

Snow levels in Southern California were around 7,000 feet because the storm was so warm, but Tuesday night's anticipated storm could be much colder, meteorologists said, and that should allow snow at elevations as low as 5,500 feet.

By Associated Press

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