Californians Face Snow, Rain and Mud

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LOS ANGELES - Another in a series of winter storms moved into California Saturday, bringing rain and snow while sending mud and debris on to highways.

As many as 90 vehicles were stranded after rocks and mud flowed down the hillside amid heavy rains along a 12-mile stretch of Angeles Crest Highway north of Los Angeles in an area where a massive wildfire burned earlier this year, said county fire Capt. Frank Reynoso. No injuries were reported.

Reynoso said about half of the vehicles had been freed Saturday afternoon but dozens remained stuck, and some would have to be retrieved after Saturday.

Several small slides have been reported on the highway between La Canada Flintridge and Mount Wilson, and the road was to remain closed indefinitely, the California Highway Patrol said.

The National Weather Service posted a flash flood warning for the area, and a less-urgent flash flood watch was in effect for many other parts of the region.

Foothill communities near slopes scorched by the fire were urged to be on guard, and major canyon roads through the burn areas remained closed.

Rain was expected to fall at rates up to three-quarters of an inch per hour through early Sunday.

The burned hills above a La Crescenta neighborhood let loose a thick layer of debris, leaving a residential road covered in dirt, rocks and roots. No damage to homes or injuries were reported.

Near the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, a family decided to evacuate a home in a neighborhood where rain threatened to bring mud and debris down the hillside. A city building inspector put a yellow tag on the house, advising residents of potential structural problems.

Nearly 5,000 utility customers throughout Los Angeles were sporadically without electricity, mostly because of downed branches crashing onto power lines.

A Los Angeles-area thoroughfare was briefly closed Saturday morning after mud and rocks slid down a hillside into lanes. Several cars had their tires flattened by sharp rocks along Topanga Canyon Boulevard. No injuries were reported.

Snow accumulations between 8 and 16 inches were expected by Sunday morning above 6,000 feet in the Southern California mountains. Sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph with gusts to 50 mph were expected.

To the North, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch through Sunday evening for western Plumas County and the west slope of the Sierra Nevada in the north and the mountains of Ventura and Los Angeles counties in the south.

"It looks like we'll be getting a lot of precipitation," said George Cline, a National Weather Service forecaster in Sacramento.

He expected the storm to bring an inch of rain to the Central Valley, with wind gusts up to 60 mph. Gusts up to 90 mph were expected on mountain ridges.

The California Department of Transportation was requiring chains for travel on all major highways over the Sierra. Chains were also required for Interstate 80 through most of Nevada.

Forecasters were warning of whiteout conditions, with snow expected to fall up to two inches an hour at the peak of the storm. They said the new snow would also bring extreme avalanche danger to the alpine backcountry.

The storm was expected to leave more than a foot of new snow at lower elevations and two feet in higher areas in the northern Sierra. Snow was expected as low as 5,000 feet.

Cline said most soils in the northern part of the state aren't saturated this early in the winter, minimizing the danger of mudslides even in burned areas.

"We don't anticipate anything really unusual from it yet," Cline said. "We're keeping an eye on the burn scar areas. Things have been so dry, it's still soaking into the ground."

Saturday's storm is the second in a series of warmer, wetter storms blowing in from the mid-Pacific Ocean. Another similar story is expected to move in by midweek, Cline said.

Associated Press Writers Don Thompson in Sacramento and Martin Griffith in Reno contributed to this story.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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