Calif. Skies Clear; Snow Piles Up In N. Ariz, NM

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LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. (AP) – Hundreds of Southern Californians were back in their homes Saturday as a stampede of storms that brought lightning, vicious downpours and tornadoes turned to sunshine.

Fears of debris flows northeast of Los Angeles subsided. Mandatory evacuation orders for hundreds of homes were lifted after public works experts determined the ground was safe – for now. The homes are in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains burned bare last summer by wildfire.

Forecasters said clear skies in California should last through Tuesday evening, when more rain moves into the southern part of the state. It’s not expected to last more than two days, said National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Vanderburg.

“We’ll have a few days to dry out and enjoy the sun before another, smaller system moves in,” Vanderburg said. “That one will be more of your average winter storm. It won’t be a huge rainmaker.”

The storms blanketed parts of Arizona and New Mexico with snow, with more expected Saturday. Forecasters warned of blowing and drifting snow that could make driving even more treacherous as plows cleared roads under gray skies.

The storms flooded small towns, caused a train derailment and closed major interstates. Snow collapsed roofs in northern Arizona, where up to 6 inches was expected on top of 4½ feet that fell since Monday, piling up to the third-highest five-day snowfall of all time.

Interstates closed in northern Arizona were open to traffic Saturday morning.

A 6-year-old boy who was swept away in rising waters about 70 miles north of Phoenix was presumed dead. The boy’s father and sister were also swept by the current, but managed to get to safety.

Three others died in vehicle accidents this week – two on Interstate 40 east of Flagstaff and one in Phoenix – as a series of storms moved through the state. At least two people were killed by trees toppled by high winds in California in recent days. In Ventura County, the body of a 40-year-old man was found Friday in an overflowing creek.

Forecasters issued winter weather and wind advisories for southern New Mexico Saturday, saying heavy snow was expected in the Gila and Sacramento mountains. In the Guadalupe Mountains of southeastern New Mexico, wind gusts could top 90 mph on Saturday. More than 2 feet of snow have fallen in the Chama area in northern New Mexico.

The storms also drenched Las Vegas, where 1.69 inches of rain hit this week, more than the 1.59 inches of rain that fell all of last year.

Across metropolitan Phoenix, downed trees blocked driveways, and palm fronds and other debris from the storm littered the streets. A teenager died after the vehicle he was in lost control while traveling through water Thursday afternoon on a Phoenix street.

In western Arizona, a 2-foot surge of runoff flooded streets and an unknown number of homes early Friday in Wenden, a community of 500 people. Flooding from the storm receded late Thursday but more water returned several hours later when a surge of runoff came through a nearby wash, said Lt. Glenn Gilbert, a spokesman for the La Paz County Sheriff’s Office. Several busloads of people were evacuated from their homes in Wenden and taken to a high school five miles away in Salome.

“They’re going to see their homes muddied up and basically destroyed,” said Gregory Palma, chief of the local volunteer fire department. “They’ll just move back in and rip off their dry wall and do what they gotta do.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for San Bernardino County, citing county estimates of 124 homes damaged by the storm and costs of more than $11 million for emergency response, building damage and debris cleanup.

States of emergency have been declared for Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Francisco and Siskiyou counties.

The declarations will allow the counties to obtain state reimbursement for much of their damage and cleanup costs, although state officials said it was unlikely that the damage was serious enough for them to qualify for federal emergency aid.

The city of Long Beach estimated $3 million in damage to homes and buildings. Flooding damaged the city’s main library and buildings at California State University, Long Beach earlier in the week.

Ana Barenos said cars parked in her Long Beach neighborhood flooded up to the windows and water seeped into her basement. She blamed the city for not doing a better job clearing the storm drains before the heavy rains.

“We had to contract a company to take out the water and they took five hours to take all the water from under the house,” she said. “It cost a lot of money. I think they should clean the drains before the (rainy) season.”


Associated Press writers contributing to this report include Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff and Jacques Billeaud and Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix.

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