LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mudslides and flash floods that raged through Southern California mountains following heavy rains killed one man, damaged homes and cut off a foothill community, leaving rescuers clearing blocked roads and residents cleaning up on Monday.
The mudslides and flooding were triggered by weekend thunderstorms that unleashed some five inches of rain in less than two hours in parts of San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, San Bernardino firefighter and public information officer Chris Prater said.
“We had a freak summer storm that brought a lot of rain in a very short amount of time,” Prater said. “The ground cannot absorb that much water and you have these flash floods as a result.”
Prater said the worst of the mudslides came down at Mount Baldy in the Angeles National Forest, some 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles, where a man was killed when his car was swept off a mountain road. Local media identified him as Joo Hwan Lee, 48, of El Segundo.
At least several other people were trapped in homes or vehicles and had to be rescued, Prater said.
Flash flooding near the unincorporated community of Forest Falls, some 60 miles to the east, prevented 70 to 100 tourists from leaving the area because of debris and downed power lines, forcing them to spend the night at a community center.
Officials said the American Red Cross was responding on Monday with water and food.
No other injuries were reported, despite the quick-moving waters stranding as many as 2,500 people overnight in Forest Falls and Oak Glen, a couple of miles to the southwest.
Television images showed cars in parking lots up to their axles in thick gray mud.
San Bernardino County Fire Department Captain Kyle Hauducoeur said it would take some three days for workers using bulldozers and other heavy equipment to clear roads around Forest Falls enough for residents and traffic to move freely.
County emergency responders rescued one woman before a mudslide destroyed her Mount Baldy home and damaged four other nearby buildings, Hauducoeur said. Among those stranded were some 500 children and chaperones who had arrived at a Forest Falls campground earlier on Sunday but could not leave after roads were covered with mud, rocks, trees and other debris.
The San Bernardino County Fire Department posted pictures online of stranded campers receiving meals and shelter at the Forest Falls Community Center.
Reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York, Daniel Wallis in Denver and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Beech