December 20, 2010 / 9:46 PM / 9 years ago

Mudslides feared as rain soaks Southern California

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Southern California residents braced on Monday for several more days of heavy showers, and the threat of mudslides, from an unusual burst of wet weather that has dumped up to a foot of rain in parts of the region since last week.

Forecasters said they are particularly concerned about the stability of rain-soaked hillsides scorched clean of vegetation above residential areas by last year’s massive brush fire north of Los Angeles.

“We’ve been very lucky so far,” said Jamie Meier, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service.

More than 40 homes were damaged in February of this year when cascades of mud, water and debris washed down fire-ravaged foothills into neighborhoods after a series of heavy storms.

Since last Thursday, coastal areas of Southern California have seen 2 to 5 inches of rain, while 5 to 10 inches fell in some foothill areas and 12 to 14 inches in the mountains.

Another 4 to 8 inches of rain was forecast for foothill and mountain areas before the downpours are expected to taper off on Wednesday, and any “quick bursts” of rain during that time could unleash mudslides in those areas, Meier said.

Coastal areas are expected to get 2 to 4 inches in that time period.

The region already has seen a number of flooded streets and a landslide that blocked a stretch of the scenic Pacific Coast Highway near the border between Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

On Sunday, downtown Los Angeles received 2.8 inches of rain, surpassing a record for December 19 that was set in 1921. The city center normally receives only 15 inches of rain a year.

Meier said the blast of showers marked the wettest weather to hit Southern California since the winter of 2004-2005, when several days of torrential rain triggered a massive mudslide that swallowed 15 homes in the coastal hamlet of La Conchita, killing 10 people.

The latest deluges were attributed to weather system sweeping across the Pacific and colliding with a tropical feed of damp air that is more than twice as moist as normal for the region at this time of year, Meier said.

Farther to the north, Southern California’s premier ski destination, Mammoth Mountain in the eastern Sierra, reported receiving 9 to 13 1/2 feet of fresh snow since Friday, including 32 inches in from Sunday morning. Another 1-2 feet was expected to fall by the end of Monday.

Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune

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