LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. (AP) – Storms that have battered southern California were easing Friday after a week of wild weather that flooded streets, spawned at least a few tornados, and left a trail of damage, but the possibility of huge mudflows was still a concern.
Hundreds of evacuees forced from homes in foothill communities were expected to learn sometime Friday whether it was safe for them to return home. Officials have said the risk of mudslides can last up to 72 hours after the rains have stopped.
Authorities said an extensive flood-control system was working, but many of the basins designed to catch debris-laden runoff from fire-scarred mountains were full and evacuations remained necessary. They insisted that residents of endangered homes should obey evacuation orders.
“It’s not safe to say that we’re out of the clear just yet,” Gail Farber, the Los Angeles County Public Works director.
The National Weather Service canceled regional flash flood warnings at 3 a.m. but stressed scattered thunderstorms could produce inch-an-hour downpours through Friday evening. Flash flood watches – meaning flooding is still possible – remained in effect in foothill communities.
The forecast calls for a dry weekend.
Justin Ross whooped and hollered while he dug his shovel furiously into the 3-foot deep mud that was quickly rising beside his parents’ house in the La Canada Flintridge foothills north of downtown Los Angeles.
Ross, 23, stopped only to dip his fingers in the muck and wiped a streak across each cheek, as water the color of chocolate milk poured down the steep slope.
“I put on the war paint and started screaming a sort of war whoop. It was a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration,” he said during a break between squalls Thursday afternoon. “I feel like I’ve been shoveling for four days straight because I have.”
The siege of Pacific storms has led to several deaths statewide, flooded urban areas and turned the region’s often-dry river and creek channels into raging torrents.
A young man was pulled from a rushing river in Orange County on Thursday, but rescuers couldn’t confirm his report that a companion got swept away following a fruitless search.
Travel snarls mounted Thursday as major highways were closed by snow and tornado damage, and strong winds grounded flights at several airports. Another tornado left a trail of damage in a community northwest of Los Angeles.
A motorist was rescued after a tornado knocked power lines onto a highway in the state’s remote southeast corner, trapping the man inside his vehicle.
A small tornado struck two neighborhoods in Ventura, toppling trees, damaging cars and tearing apart a shed in two neighborhoods.
Acting Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco and Siskiyou counties because of the statewide storm impacts.
By late afternoon the storm had added as much as 3.2 inches of rain to the 5 to 6 inches that fell earlier in the week across the mountains of Los Angeles County. Unstable conditions after the storm brought hail, thunder and lightning throughout the night.
The basins are located on streams and other water courses emerging from the mountains to intercept surges of mud, boulders and other debris while allowing water to flow into open channels and underground storm drains that empty into the ocean.
The major area of concern has been foothill communities along the perimeter of the San Gabriel Mountains, where a summer wildfire scorched 250 square miles and burned right up to the backyards of homes that abut the steep slopes.
Since the beginning of the week, officials ordered more than 1,200 homes evacuated.
By nightfall, the storm’s main rainfall was passing but forecasts warned of volatile conditions through the night. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the city’s evacuation orders remained in effect.
“While the worst of the last few storms is behind us, there still is a significant threat from thundershowers that are forming off the coast and have the potential to bring lightning, hail, waterspouts and small tornados,” he said.