October 15, 2009 in Nation/World

Mudslide threat eases as storm loses momentum

Thomas Watkins And John Antczak Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A mudslide covers a basketball court up to the backboard and part of a home in Corralitos, Calif., Wednesday, after a major storm hit the area.
(Full-size photo)

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. – A powerful fall storm packing strong winds and rain eased Wednesday without causing the widespread mudslides and debris flows that California residents had feared.

The storm delivered its biggest punch to northern and central areas, knocking out power to 870,000 utility customers from Southern California to the San Joaquin Valley, the Eastern Sierra and Eureka on the north coast.

A mandatory evacuation order remained in effect for residents of about 40 homes in central coast mountains near Watsonville, east of Monterey Bay, due to mudslides, said Chris Hirsch, a spokeswoman for Santa Cruz County emergency services.

A house in Corralitos was left surrounded by mud that buried cars up to their windows and a basketball hoop to the net.

A dozen other homes were isolated because fallen trees and debris blocked roads.

“We can’t get in, they can’t get out,” Hirsch said.

A snarled commute was the storm’s biggest immediate impact in Los Angeles County, as vehicles collided on wet pavement and water pooled on some routes. The California Highway Patrol tallied 186 crashes between midnight and 6 a.m., nearly 10 times more than the same period a week earlier.

The storm, however, lost momentum by the time it reached Southern California, where up to 5 inches of rain had been forecast, and there were no thunderstorm downpours.

“This strong system sort of just rained itself out over Central California and as it moved down lower it had already started to exhaust itself slightly,” said Jamie Stern, a National Weather Service spokeswoman. “As it moved on downward we didn’t get the full effect of what the storm originally was.”

Mountainsides made bare from summer fires have raised fears of mudslides and debris flows.

Many parts of the state remained under flash flood watches, meaning conditions were favorable for flooding.

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