Most Powerful Storm in Years Lashes Drought-parched California

A Pacific storm system over southern California — one of the most powerful to hit the area in years — that has generated high water, fallen trees, mudslides and sinkholes and is blamed for at least two deaths showed no signs of easing Saturday.

The National Weather Service said much of the state was under flood watches and flood warnings in effect from what it called a “very active, anomalously wet pattern.”

Unlike some of the past deluges that have lashed the drought-parched Golden State, the latest was accompanied by winds that whipped upward of 70 miles per hour in some areas.

Amtrak canceled its rail trips for a long stretch of the state’s southern and central coast, and more than 300 arriving and departing flights were delayed or canceled at Los Angeles International Airport.

In the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, the winds and rain were blamed for downing power lines along a busy stretch of Sepulveda Boulevard that fell on a car underneath. The driver was electrocuted, Los Angeles police said.

Later, only a few miles away in Studio City, a sinkhole swallowed two cars. TV viewers watched as one of the two vehicles teetered on the edge of the chasm before plunging in. Firefighters rescued one person from the first car, and the driver got out of the second before it fell. No one was injured.

Interstate 5, the major north-south artery through California, was flooded near Los Angeles with water as deep as about five feet. Rush-hour traffic came to a crawl as California Highway Patrol officers guided motorists to off-ramps But drivers of big-rig trucks, taking advantage of their high clearance, waded through water that almost rose to their hoods at times.

As the worst of the storm struck in the early afternoon, work crews — from fire departments, Caltrans and public works departments — were deployed throughout the region to respond to traffic accidents, downed trees and power lines and flooding as a result of the heavy rain.

In Victorville, a desert community east of Los Angeles, several vehicles were swept away by rushing water. One motorist was rescued from atop their vehicle. But San Bernardino County firefighters say one motorist died when the driver’s car was submerged.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Doug Stanglin , Charles Ventura and Chris Woodyard