State of emergency declared after California storms leave path of death, destruction

LOS ANGELES — Sunshine and rainbows alternated with thunderclaps, downpours, snow and hail on Monday as the last in a trio of storms broke up over California after flooding roads and homes and trapping people in swamped vehicles.

At least four people died, three were missing and others were rescued from raging floodwaters during the storms.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday declared a state of emergency for 50 California counties that were drenched by December and January storms that caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

The two proclamations are designed to provide state assistance to local governments coping with flooding, mudslides and erosion and to help obtain federal emergency funding to fix damaged roads and highways.

Brown’s proclamations said the damage has created “conditions of extreme peril” to people and property.

Anguished relatives gathered along a creek in Alameda County southeast of San Francisco as searchers looked for an 18-year-old woman whose car plunged into the rushing waterway after a collision late Saturday.

Two other people remained missing after being reported in waters off Pebble Beach on Saturday. The search along the Monterey Peninsula was suspended.

In Los Angeles, receding stormwater revealed a body in dense vegetation at a regional park in the Harbor City area. The cause of death was not known, but the Fire Department said the body may be that of a man reported missing Sunday night.

The powerful weekend tempest added to impressive amounts of precipitation that have suddenly arrived in a state after years of withering drought.

By afternoon, downtown Los Angeles had recorded 14.3 inches of rain since the start of the water year on Oct. 1, less than a half-inch away from the average for the entire season.

Heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada triggered an avalanche that shut down a highway just west of Lake Tahoe. Officials warned of continuing avalanche danger at all elevations of the Sierra. In northern Nevada, schools were canceled after more than a half-foot of snow fell near Reno.

 

Flood watches and warnings remained in place for much of Southern California, a day after nearly 4 inches of rain fell south of Los Angeles, inundating roadways, toppling trees and raising fears of damaging mudslides.

Low-elevation snow dusted rural communities just north of Los Angeles while resort communities to the east in the San Bernardino Mountains were digging out from more heavy snow. Many schools in the inland region closed for the day.

A chance of showers was expected to persist into early Tuesday before a ridge of high pressure brings fair weather through early next week — a sharp turnabout from the hours of rain that hit Southern California Sunday.

Ryan Schwarzrock, 35, and his wife, Emily Earhart, 32, were at home in Seal Beach, south of Los Angeles, when the rain began to pound. The couple watched the street that winds through their mobile home community fill with water. Then, the water crept over the concrete step leading up to their home.

“It just started seeping in,” said Earhart. “We started getting towels and realized it wasn’t going to do it.”

Other Southern Californians were able to find some fun in the floods, paddleboarding and rafting through streets. A helmeted man raced a personal watercraft through suburban Fullerton.

The storm was accompanied by huge surf along the coast.

A historic WWI-era ship called the S.S. Palo Alto beached near Santa Cruz was torn apart by massive waves Saturday. It had been a landmark since it was intentionally grounded and connected to shore with a pier in 1930 in a failed venture to create a seaside entertainment destination.

Elsewhere in the West, avalanche warnings were issued for northern Utah, where heavy snow snarled traffic and led to numerous fender benders. Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter signed a disaster declaration for Washington County due to snow accumulations. A vacant bar in Payette, Idaho, collapsed early Sunday under the weight of snow.

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