Much-needed rain comes to California with threat of mudslides


LOS ANGELES — Saturated mountainsides loomed over foothill communities on Saturday as a storm centered off California rotated bands of rain into a state that sorely needs the moisture but not at such dangerously high rates.

Evacuation orders remained in effect for hundreds of homes in Los Angeles County foothill communities where fires have burned away vegetation that holds soil in place, and bursts of rain caused the mountains to belch occasional debris flows.

The storm marked a sharp departure from many months of drought that has grown to crisis proportions for the state’s vast farming industry. However, such storms would have to become common to make serious inroads against the drought, weather forecasters have said.

Officials warned that despite lengthy lulls, more heavy downpours are expected, and they urged residents who left their homes as much as three days earlier to be patient.

“These mountains are now saturated and soaked. We know where the mud’s gonna go, we just don’t know how much and what the intensity is going to be,” Assistant Chief Steve Martin of the Los Angeles County Fire Department told a webcast news conference.

The National Weather Service said the storm is forecast to move east over the Rockies and into the Plains and Mississippi Valley through Sunday, bringing a hodgepodge of precipitation. Colorado’s ski resorts could see up to 6 inches of fresh snow. A mixture of sleet and snow in Kansas, Missouri and Illinois will eventually change over to all snow — with up to 8 inches forecast for Kansas City and the St. Louis area — while northern Arkansas will see freezing rain. The system also has its sights set on the Appalachians and the East Coast into Monday.

The storm’s eastward move on Saturday finally broke a 70-day streak without precipitation in the Phoenix area. An 85-day spell of no measureable rainfall in Las Vegas ended Friday. Rain and snow also finally came to drought-stricken New Mexico. In Denver, a highway pileup involving more than 100 vehicles killed one person and injured 30 others as heavy snow fell Saturday, authorities said.

In California, about 1,200 houses in the adjacent cities of Azusa and Glendora as well as nearby Monrovia have been under evacuation orders because of the possibility of destructive flows from the San Gabriel Mountains, a rugged range largely covered by the Angeles National Forest. A dozen homes in Azusa were in particular danger.

In Azusa, Jeff White told the Los Angeles Times that his home, across from the mountains, wasn’t damaged. He’d returned Saturday to grab clothes and check on his neighbors. Homes had mud on their terraces and plants were covered in silt.