February 4, 1998 in Nation/World

California Rocked By Floods, High Winds 14 County Emergencies Declared; Power Failure Hits 300,000

Stephanie Simon And Mary Curtius Los Angeles Times
 

Storms bashed California with dark fury Tuesday, forcing thousands of residents to flee fast-rising rivers in the north and creating havoc in the south as trees toppled, freeways flooded and roofs blew away in the tremendous winds.

Fourteen counties declared local emergencies, the precursor to requesting federal disaster relief.

The Northern California storm prompted at least 6,000 evacuations and was blamed for one death, in San Mateo County, where a man suffered fatal injuries when a tree slammed into his house. The publisher of a small newspaper near Stockton was reported missing after apparently being swept away by flood waters in Calaveras County.

Southern California authorities reported no fatalities, but twin 12-year-old Los Angeles boys barely escaped injury when an elm tree crashed through the window of their bedroom, showering them with glass.

Meanwhile, power failures left thousands of people in the dark at least sporadically throughout the day. About 187,000 customers were affected in the San Francisco area, along with at least 114,000 in Southern California.

The normally barren Los Angeles River coursed with muddy water - so much that officials declared certain sections of it running at 75 percent capacity.

And ferocious winds ripped part of the roof from an eight-unit building at a public housing complex in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. No one was injured, but several residents felt like they had just lived through a scene from “The Wizard of Oz.”

“The roof just flew off. It was a really loud noise,” said Ramon Medina, 23, who lives in one of the apartments. “It kind of shook the building. It was pretty bad.”

That same wind whipped up 15-foot waves all along the coast. A recorded surf report at Malibu lifeguard headquarters described it this way: “Beautiful to watch; no way you can get out there.”

In fact, there was no way to get many places in California on Tuesday. There were road closures galore, including stretches of major freeways. Heavy snow made for rough driving in the Sierra Nevada.

Rescue workers touched down a helicopter on top of a tractor to pluck a stranded farm worker from swollen Castaic Creek in the Santa Clarita Valley, north of Los Angeles. A pregnant woman in labor was picked up with a back hoe - the only vehicle able to maneuver through floodwaters to her swamped house in the tiny coastal town of Pescadero, just south of San Francisco.

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