Punishing storm finally easing off in Southern California but mudslide threat remains

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A storm that parked itself over Southern California for days, unleashing historic downpours that caused hundreds of landslides, was expected to move out of the region after one final drenching Wednesday, but authorities warned of the continued threat of collapsing hillsides.

One of the wettest storms in Southern California history unleashed at least 475 mudslides in the Los Angeles area after dumping more than a foot (30 centimeters) of rain in some areas, including the Hollywood Hills.

The weather began relenting Tuesday and evacuation orders were lifted for homes in flood- and slide-prone areas, including a canyon in Los Angeles County that was scarred by a 2022 fire and left with little or no vegetation left to hold soil in place.

After a heavy cloudburst forecast for Wednesday afternoon or night that could bring another few inches of rain, Southern California was expected to begin drying out Thursday and heading for a sunny weekend.

Yet after back-to-back atmospheric rivers walloped California in less than a week, it wouldn't take much for water, mud and boulders to sluice down fragile hillsides, experts warned.

"The ground is fully saturated and simply cannot hold any more water," even if rains are light, National Weather Service meteorologist Tyler Kranz said.

Fortunately, no deaths had been reported from the slides.

On Tuesday, Dion Peronneau in the LA suburb of Baldwin Hills was trying to get her artwork and books out of her house. Mud knocked her sliding glass doors off their frame and poured into her home of 25 years.

"Eight feet of mud is pressed up against my window that is no longer there," she said. "They put up boards to make sure no more mud can come in."

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said the city was looking toward helping people recover from the weather's pounding. Officials will seek federal emergency money to help move homeless people out of shelters and to aid owners of damaged hillside homes where insurance companies wouldn't cover the losses, she said.

But counting the damaged homes might take a while, she warned at a Tuesday evening news conference.

"The hillsides are soaked, some of them are still moving," Bass said. "So hopefully no more homes will be damaged, but it's too early to tell."

Work crews, meanwhile, struggled to deal with the storm's aftermath. Thousands of customers remained without power late Tuesday, after rain flooded electrical vaults and trees brought down on power lines.

Some 400 trees had fallen in the Los Angeles area alone, the city said.

People were being urged to avoid touching the lines for fear of electrocution and to steer clear of roadways at risk of floods and mud. Over the course of the storm, dozens of people in LA alone — including at least 50 stranded motorists — were rescued from fast-moving, swollen creeks, rivers, roads and storm channels, fire officials said.

Yet some business owners were looking on the bright side.

At The Flowerman in Pasadena, florist and owner Lou Quismorio said he hoped customers return with the sun.

"I can't really worry about it," he said. "I've got over 8,500 roses in my cooler right now."

In San Diego, Sabrina Biddle was cleaning up after a few leaks in her dance studio.

"Back to dancing, no more storm," she said.

Stormy weather rolled into Northern California last weekend before moving south and stalling. Throughout the state, seven storm-related deaths had been reported, including four people crushed by toppling trees and someone who was swept up Tuesday in a swollen Tijuana River channel near the border with Mexico, immigration officials said.

The California Highway Patrol said a 69-year-old man died Monday after his truck went down an embankment and filled with water in Yucaipa, about 80 miles (128 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.

All the rain brought one silver lining: Helping to boost the state's often-strapped water supply. At least 6 billion gallons (22.7 billion liters) of storm water in Los Angeles alone were captured for groundwater and local supplies, the mayor's office said. Just two years ago, nearly all of California was plagued by a devastating drought that strained resources and forced water cutbacks.

The latest storms followed a string of atmospheric rivers that pummeled the state last year, leading to at least 20 deaths.

As the latest weather front moved east, it prompted warnings across the state line.

Parts of northern Arizona stretching southeast toward New Mexico were under a winter storm warning through 5 p.m. Wednesday and a wide swath of west-central Arizona, including Phoenix, remained under a flood watch until Thursday morning.

The National Weather Service in Flagstaff said more than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow was possible in the upper elevations around the Grand Canyon by Wednesday evening, 8 to 15 inches (20 to 38 centimeters) in Flagstaff and up to 18 inches (46 centimeters) in the mountains east of Phoenix.