Fresh storms trigger flooding in southwest U.S.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Another round of storms drenched rain-soaked Southern California on Wednesday, flooding streets, causing widespread power outages and prompting evacuations in foothill areas prone to mudslides.
Heavy showers also unleashed flooding in Nevada and Arizona. A rain-swollen torrent coursing through a normally dry wash in northwestern Arizona swept away four homes on Tuesday and was close to swallowing three more on Wednesday.
But the most widespread disruptions were reported in California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for several counties on Tuesday following five straight days of steady downpours.
Among the hardest hit areas on Wednesday were coastal San Diego and Orange counties, south of Los Angeles.
In the Mission Valley area of San Diego, emergency personnel with inflatable boats worked to rescue hotel guests stranded by floodwaters at the Premier Inn.
Heavy rains and flooding also prompted a rare closure of the nearby aquatic theme park SeaWorld San Diego.
Police in the upscale, seaside village of Laguna Beach shut down a seven-block area after more than 3 feet of muddy water coursed through downtown streets and ran up against storefronts there, said police Lt. Jason Kravetz.
Crews also rescued a man trapped in his house by a mudslide that caved in one wall of the dwelling. Another 40 residents of a canyon area fled to a high school shelter for fear that additional mudslides could hit their homes.
"The crews are getting a little tired, everyone's working really hard," said Kravetz, adding that it was the most intense flooding in the picturesque town since 1997.
Farther inland, about a dozen vehicles became mired in thick mud from a slide that washed onto an Orange County toll road near Irvine, south of Los Angeles, said officer Gabe Montoya, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol.
Just north of Los Angeles, authorities issued evacuation advisories for more than 230 homes in communities of La Crescenta and La Canada-Flintridge nestled along canyons and hillsides denuded of vegetation by recent brush fires.
Dozens of homes in that area were damaged by mudslides and flooding earlier this year. But Los Angeles County Fire Department Captain Frank Garrido said most residents were choosing to stay put for the time being.
Up to 15 inches of rain have fallen over Southern California since late last week from a "Pineapple Express" stream of moist air swept in from the tropical Pacific and colliding with cold Alaskan air -- and more rain was on the way, the National Weather Service said.
As much as 2 inches of rain per hour was forecast on Wednesday for the most intense storms. Flash-flood watches were posted across the region in slide-prone areas around Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Bernardino counties.
"This is a dangerous situation. Excessive runoff from heavy rainfall will cause fast-rising water and flash flooding of washes," the Weather Service warned.
Inclement weather extended hundreds of miles up the coast. San Francisco International Airport was experiencing delays to arriving flights because of low cloud ceilings, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Some of the most dramatic weather impacts were captured on television by MSNBC in Beaver Dam, Arizona, where floodwaters ripped four vacant homes from their foundations and swept them downstream on Tuesday.
At least three more houses were threatened on Wednesday as flooding continued in the subdivisions of Beaver Dam Resort and Beaver Dam Estates, and more than 100 residents were asked to leave their homes as a precaution, authorities said.
Southern California Edison, which provides electricity to much of central and Southern California, reported 19,876 customers without power on Wednesday morning.
Las Vegas also was hit by heavy showers, with a flash-flood watches posted there until 10 p.m. Wednesday night.
(Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix, Damon Hodge in Las Vegas; Editing by Greg McCune)
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