Californians braced for even more rain today as they struggled to recover from storms that killed at least nine people, triggered mudslides and tornadoes and washed away roads and runways.
Among the victims was a Nevada woman caught in an avalanche while cross-country skiing near Lake Tahoe, and a 16-year-old Orange County girl doing homework on a computer when a mudslide crashed through the wall of her home.
In Ventura County, officials closed the small Santa Paula airport yesterday after more than 155 feet of runway collapsed into the rushing Santa Clara River. Chunks of concrete crumbled into the water throughout the day.
“We’ve lost nearly the entire west third of the airport,” said Rowena Mason, president of the Santa Paula Airport Association. “This is millions and millions of dollars worth of damage.”
Forecasters said another strong system expected today could bring severe winds and drop an additional inch or more of rain on Southern California.
Despite brief glimpses of sun, a flash flood watch was in effect across much of Southern California yesterday. A tornado warning was also issued for coastal areas.
Authorities said dozens of homes were evacuated or red-tagged – marked as uninhabitable – because they threatened to collapse from sliding hillsides.
Mudslides forced Amtrak officials to suspend train service north of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara at least through tomorrow.
The wild weather came from a series of storms that began battering the state on Thursday, dumping 8.15ins of rain on downtown Los Angeles.
A total of 33.95ins of rain had fallen in the city since July 1, when California begins its yearly rainfall measurements. The record, 38.18ins, was set in 1883-1884.
Mayor James Hahn asked governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to urge President George Bush to issue a federal disaster declaration for the city, which could open the way for government assistance. The mayor said damage exceeded £5.5m (€7.9m).
Northern California was also hit by severe thunderstorms and hail. Trees were uprooted and roofs and fences damaged by two small tornadoes near Sacramento.