Dozens of homes were damaged and some destroyed in the fire-scarred foothills above Los Angeles on Saturday as mudslides touched off by torrential rains poured down onto upscale neighborhoods.
There were no reports of deaths or injuries but residents said they had little or no warning before a wall of mud, rock and debris came crashing down sometime after 4 a.m. PST/1200 GMT, carrying off cars and leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
"It was like an airplane landing on your house, there was no way out," a tearful woman told the local CBS affiliate.
The woman, who did not give her name, said she was wearing clothes that a neighbor had loaned her because she did not have time to dress.
Authorities worked to clear the mud-choked streets and ordered some 500 homes evacuated because more heavy rain was expected on Saturday afternoon and the hillsides remained dangerously unstable.
In all 41 homes suffered moderate to heavy damage, a Los Angeles County Fire spokesman said.
The worst was in the foothill community of La Canada-Flintridge, where the massive Station Fire wildfire last summer left the area charred and barren of vegetation.
Authorities said at least 30 homes sustained some damage from the mud there, a few collapsing totally.
"There are mounds and mounds of dirt piled into homes and cars have been covered up and gone into homes," Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokeswoman Nicole Nishida told Reuters by telephone from the scene.
"(The cars) look like toys scattered across the road," she said.
Nishida said that in the neighborhood where she was working she could count at least two homes that would have to be condemned.
"A car has gone into another residence and I'm smelling a lot of gas so I think there's a gas leak that the fire department is trying to fix," she said.
A high school was set up as an evacuation center. But many residents said they hadn't been warned or advised to evacuate, as they had during past storms.
Elsewhere in the Los Angeles area, flooding forced the closure of streets and at least one major freeway. In Hollywood, curbs overflowed and water washed into several businesses.
The National Weather Service has said that a weeklong series of storms that battered California in January were the strongest to hit the region in five years.
On the bright side, heavy snowfall in mountain ranges that feed California's reservoirs have eased critical water shortages. But water officials are reluctant to declare the drought at an end.