By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. Feb 28 A large winter storm
brought much-needed relief to parched California on Friday,
boosting depleted reservoirs and the Sierra Nevada's mountain
snowpack, but officials said the precipitation would be too
little to offset years of drought.
The heavy rains also prompted flash flood warnings across
much of Southern California and posed a particular threat to
foothill communities where recent wildfires stripped vegetation
from large areas, leaving homes below vulnerable to potential
Mandatory evacuations were in effect on Friday for more than
1,200 homes in some slide-prone areas east of Los Angeles, where
sandbags were stacked around driveways and miles of concrete
barriers were lined up along the streets to channel heavy
hillside runoff away from houses.
The downpours even posed challenges to crews preparing for
Sunday night's Oscar ceremony in Hollywood, soaking parts of the
newly installed red carpet.
California is in its third year of a dry spell that may
break all records in the most populous U.S. state, where
lawmakers on Thursday swiftly passed a series of drought relief
proposals to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature. President
Barack Obama has also pledged millions of dollars in aid.
Friday's storm, and a smaller band of showers on Wednesday,
came as a welcome break in California's relentlessly dry weather
but will do little to significantly ease the state's water
"Despite these recent storms, it would still have to rain
every other day until around May to reach average precipitation
totals, and even then we would still be in a drought due to the
last two dry years," said Richard Stapler, spokesman for the
California Natural Resources Agency.
Brown declared a drought emergency last month and has called
on state officials to prepare for water shortages and to develop
solutions for potentially long-term dry weather.
Officials have said that California farmers facing drastic
cutbacks in irrigation water are expected to idle half a million
acres of cropland this year in a record production loss that
could cause billions of dollars in economic damage.
Moderate to heavy rainfall across Southern and Central
California on Friday was expected to taper off by Saturday
afternoon, the National Weather Service said.
The coastal town of Oxnard, just north of Los Angeles,
received nearly 2 inches (5 cm) of rain by late afternoon, the
highest precipitation measured anywhere in the United States
during the day, according to the weather service.
ROCK SLIDES AND RIVER RESCUES
Rain and high winds caused road closures and power outages
across Southern California and brought enough snow that tire
chains were required for driving on mountain roads near the
In Los Angeles, 14,000 customers were without power by
mid-morning. People were soaked as high winds turned umbrellas
inside out and drove the rain nearly sideways as they waited for
buses and light rail trains.
Near Malibu, crews worked to clear debris from the Pacific
Coast Highway north of the affluent seaside city after rock
slides prompted officials to shut down a 10-mile (16-km) stretch
of the scenic road.
Patrick Chandler, a spokesman for the California Department
of Transportation, said a large wildfire in the area last year
had weakened the stability of hillsides in the area.
"A lot of times, when you have rain in this area, especially
with the drought, you're going to have a lot of loose rocks
coming down," Chandler said.
Later Friday, the agency closed the Angeles Crest Highway in
the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles after another
rockslide made the road impassable. Several recreation areas in
the Angeles National Forest also were closed.
By noon, there had been 158 vehicle crashes in the Los
Angeles area, 112 more than the previous Friday, according to
the California Highway Patrol.
Firefighters rescued two homeless people who had climbed
with their dogs into trees to escape swiftly rising water
flowing down the Los Angeles River near their encampment, and
another man was plucked to safety from another spot along the
river later in the day, a fire department spokesman said.
Air traffic was also affected at Los Angeles International
Airport, where 19 incoming and outgoing flights were canceled on
Friday morning, officials said.
In northern California, about 13,000 customers lost power in
the San Francisco Bay Area and the wine-making Sonoma County,
said Jason King, a spokesman for the Pacific Gas & Electric
Although many of those households and businesses had their
power restored by early afternoon, the company expected
additional outages to occur on Friday night as the rainy and
windy weather continued, King said.