California lifts most evacuation orders over storm

The weather service reported another storm, though weaker, could sweep into the region early next week.

California lifts most evacuation orders over storm

Winter storms that have hammered California for nearly a week tapered off on Friday as authorities lifted evacuation orders for most of the 2,000 Los Angeles-area homes in greatest danger of mudslides.

With scattered showers and thunderstorms lingering across the state, utility crews worked to restore electricity to 20,000 homes and businesses still without power as of midday, and excavation teams dug out catch basins clogged with mud and debris.

The all-clear was given to most of the evacuees from neighborhoods north of Los Angeles where a huge wildfire last summer stripped hillsides and canyons bare, leaving them prone to collapse from five days of drenching rains.

But some residents who live closest to the danger zones were told they would not be permitted to return until geologists and engineers determined it was safe.

Authorities said it was fortunate that the ground held, with relatively minor mud flows washing into streets and damaging just a few houses.

"We dodged a bullet," Neal Tyler of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said at a morning news conference. He and others stressed that the risk was far from over.

More rain next week

"A 3- or 4-inch (7.6- or 10-cm) storm this week may have been absorbed, barely absorbed, (but) a 1- or 2-inch (2.5- or 5-cm) storm next week may be far more devastating," Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "We have a whole winter yet to come."

The weather service reported another storm, though weaker, could sweep into the region early next week.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown, acting in place of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who was traveling, declared a state of emergency for parts of California stretching from the Orange County coast to the Oregon border. Schwarzenegger returned on Friday to survey the rain damage.

A blast of four storms that raked Southern California starting on Sunday night rank as the strongest to pummel the region in five years, the National Weather Service said.

The weather system unleashed torrents of rain, as well as hail, gale-force winds and even tornadoes, flooding streets, closing highways, canceling numerous airline flights and pounding beaches with waves as tall as two-story buildings.

The storms were blamed for at least three deaths, including two people crushed by falling trees.

But a huge snowfall in mountain ranges that feed the state's reservoirs provided a silver lining, easing critical water shortages caused by a three-year drought. Los Angeles County alone collected enough rainfall runoff to supply water to 150,000 families for a year.

Meanwhile, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has declared a state of emergency as rains drenched Phoenix and heavy snow forced closure of highways in the north of the state.

The town of Wenden, about 100 miles (161 km) west of Phoenix, was under several feet (metres) of floodwaters early Thursday following heavy rains, forcing the evacuation of about a fifth of the town's 500 residents, police said.

By Friday afternoon, the floods had begun to recede, leaving Wenden under about 6 inches (15 cm) of water.

The sheriff's office in Yavapai County, north of Phoenix, said a 6-year-old boy was missing and presumed dead after he was swept away on Thursday by floodwaters.

The storm in Arizona -- the most severe to hit the state in more than a decade -- also triggered power outages, and delayed flights at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.


Reuters

Last Mod: 23 Ocak 2010, 15:58
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