December 24, 2010 / 12:58 AM / 9 years ago

Southern Californians dig out from mudslides

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rain-weary Southern Californians awoke to sunny skies on Thursday and began cleaning up from floods and mudslides that damaged hundreds of homes, businesses and roads during a week of storms.

Capping seven days of downpours that dumped roughly half as much rain as Los Angeles typically gets during an entire year, a helicopter rescue team on Wednesday night carried to safety four mountain hikers stranded north of the city by the storms.

The hikers — three men and a woman in their 20s and 30s — were examined afterward but required no medical attention, and all were returned to their vehicles, a Los Angeles County Fire Department dispatch supervisor said.

The four had been trapped deep in the San Gabriel Mountains since Sunday due to treacherous debris flows and poor visibility that kept rescue teams from reaching them sooner.

But much more time will be needed to restore normalcy for many others whose lives were disrupted by the torrential rains, described by meteorologists as the heaviest to sweep Southern California in at least six years.

In the foothill town of Highland, a city of 50,000 east of Los Angeles and one of the hardest hit communities, residents were digging out from a deluge that left up to 4 feet of mud in some places on Wednesday.

“You could sense the sheer amount of power that was in that mud flow just by the way it moved cars and what it did to the properties,” said Bill Peters, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Five homes in Highland were destroyed by water and mud from nearby creeks that overflowed — one house was swept off its foundations — and cars were left in the muck at 45-degree angles, officials said. A two-lane concrete bridge also collapsed.

But no one was hurt, unlike a 2003 storm that killed 14 people in foothill communities of the San Bernardino Mountains. “That’s the Christmas miracle this time,” Peters said.

In San Bernardino County as a whole, water and mud flowed through more than 350 homes during the storms, said Tracey Martinez, a spokeswoman for the county fire department, who added that figure will likely rise.

Damage to roads, homes and businesses in the county is estimated at $36.5 million — nearly half of that in Highland — and that figure, too, is expected to rise.

Coastal areas of San Diego and Orange counties, south of Los Angeles, bore much of the storm’s brunt.

“It is definitely challenging times,” said Christine Fink, a shop owner in the scenic seaside hamlet of Laguna Beach, as she cleaned up from flooding that swamped much of downtown on Wednesday. “It seems like we have always had bouts with bad luck. But it is paradise, and there is a reason we live here.”

In San Diego, cleanup crews worked to pump out water that drenched the parking lots and field at Qualcomm Stadium in time for the 5 p.m. scheduled college football kickoff of the Poinsettia Bowl game between San Diego State and Navy.

But the region’s respite from rain was expected to be brief. More showers are expected late on Christmas Day and maybe more on Sunday.

Editing by Greg McCune

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