Monday, January 10, 2005

Storms continue to pound Inland Empire

For the third day in a row, heavy rains are pounding the Inland Empire. This is the heaviest downpour I can remember in more than 20 years. I had to go to the local Target (okay – I didn’t have to go. But I was getting cabin fever!) and the water was so deep down Palmetto that it sprayed up on both sides of the truck, causing Christina to say that it looked the Disney ride, “Pirates of the Caribbean!” It was a good day to be driving a gas-guzzling, environmentally unfriendly Ford Explorer.

The bad news is that this is only the second of three storms due to hit between now and Wednesday. Even weather forecasters who saw this coming are surprised by the amount of rain and how much damage has been done. I have to admit that I am too. I fully expected problems in the mountain areas, particularly those hit by the firestorms of October 2003. But this had been much wider spread.

In the picture below, floodwaters washed away the supports for some railroad tracks across Slover Avenue and part of the road east of Etiwanda Avenue in Fontana.

Storm Damage in Fontana

I’ve been monitoring my scanner and talking to other scanners in the area via email and IM and the storm continues to come down hard and over a surprising large section of SoCal. I’m hearing to scanners from San Diego to Santa Barbara and as far east as China Lake and north as Truckee. This is a lot of water.

No relief from rain

Forecasters say another downpour on the way

12:37 AM PST on Monday, January 10, 2005

A fierce winter storm soaked Southern California on Sunday, flooding Inland roadways and rail lines, forcing closure of Interstate 215 north of San Bernardino and prompting evacuations in the San Bernardino Mountains.

As afternoon turned into evening, the rains intensified. Mud, rocks and water closed roadways throughout the Inland region. Reports of flooding swamped police and fire dispatchers in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Sunday's storm was the second of three drenching rains to sweep across Southern California as wet weather continued to assail the West. Rain is expected to continue into early Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.

In Crestline, a mudslide destroyed one home and damaged four others, two severely, on Dart Canyon Road about 6 p.m., said Capt. Rick Bryan of the Crest Forest Fire Protection District. Only one home was occupied, but no one was injured, he said.

The cabin "just disintegrated," Bryan said. "It just looks like a bomb went off from all the furniture and household items."

The force of the mudslide catapulted a car and a pickup across the road, sending one vehicle into one of the damaged houses across the street.

Earlier in the day, mud and rocks slid across Highway 18 about four miles west of Big Bear Dam on Sunday morning. The slide buried about 30 feet of roadway beneath a dozen feet of mud. The mess hampered removal of about 50 cars that had been stranded in snow on Saturday, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeff Newsome said.

No one was injured in the slide, but a family attempting to retrieve their car was dangerously close to the hillside as it crumbled. The slide did not damage the stranded vehicles, Newsome said.

Rock slides, flooding and deep snow kept several other San Bernardino Mountain highways closed Sunday. They included Highways 330 at Highland, 173 to Lake Arrowhead, and 138 east of Interstate 15. Big Bear Boulevard remained open, but with limited access, according to Caltrans.

In addition, Highway 243 from Poppet Flats to Alandale in the San Jacinto Mountains remained closed because of rockslides. Southbound Interstate 15 was closed just south of Temecula because of flooding, the California Highway Patrol reported.

Road closures in the San Bernardino Mountains and along Interstate 215 could complicate morning commutes for some. Rim of the World Unified School District canceled classes today. But Cal State San Bernardino, located just south of the I-215 closure, plans to open for classes as scheduled, spokesman Joe Gutierrez said Sunday.

Melting Snow

The heavy rain arrived in a weather system that was warmer than last week's storms. The rain melted snow in the lower mountain elevations, adding to the volume of storm runoff in the valleys below, said Vana Olson, assistant director of San Bernardino County Public Works.

As a result, a few storm basins and lakes filled enough to push water over spillways. Those included the Day Creek basin in western San Bernardino County, the Mojave Forks Dam and Silverwood Lake, Olson said.

Chunks of ice that had formed at higher elevations were flowing in Deep Creek toward the Mojave River.

"You don't get to see that very often," Olson said.

With more rain in the forecast, the Army Corps of Engineers released water Sunday from Prado Dam near Corona and Seven Oaks Dam east of San Bernardino.

In Forest Falls, about 100 people were briefly evacuated Sunday when a storm-swollen creek suddenly slowed to a trickle. Snow was believed to have clogged the creek, but storm water burst through the blockage and sent runoff gushing down the creek without damaging homes, firefighters in Forest Falls reported.

"It went just the way we wanted it," firefighter Misha Boiarski said.

Lytle Creek Isolated

Lytle Creek residents were isolated with the community's main roadway washed out. Rain fell throughout most of the day, choking the roads with mud and the creek with water, resident Ryne Hoeppner said.

"It's a lot of rain. There's mud everywhere," he said.

Hoeppner said he nailed plywood against his back fence to provide extra protection against Lytle Creek's rising behind his house. By Sunday evening, he could hear runoff knocking the boulders against one another.

"We did what we can," he said. "Just got to let nature take its course."

A heavy deluge about 4:30 p.m. flooded streets and parking lots from the Hemet Valley Mall to Riverside, where police and fire dispatchers were swamped with reports of stalled cars and flooded roads.

In Riverside, rising storm waters blew open manhole covers on Canyon Crest Drive, forced the closure of 14th Street at Vine Street and submerged cars under 3 to 4 feet of water on Arlington Avenue at the railroad overpass near Highway 91, police said.

Norco Bridges Closed

In Norco, authorities closed down the heavily traveled River Road bridge over the Santa Ana River about 1:30 p.m. as the river rose, Norco Fire Battalion Chief Bob Frank said. By 4 p.m., water was beginning to wash over the top of the two-lane bridge at the city's northwest border, he said. The Hamner Avenue bridge also was closed Sunday night, he said. Runoff flooded homes east of Hamner Avenue, he said.

"The river is really angry tonight," Franck said.

The worst effects of the storm appeared to be in the San Bernardino Mountains and foothills. However, the damage was far less severe than the disastrous mudflows in late 2003, months after wildfire left the slopes barren, San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert said.

On Sunday afternoon, heavy rain sent mud and boulders crashing down on Alpen Drive in Lake Arrowhead, destroying the deck, entry porch and a retaining wall on an unoccupied home, said San Bernardino County Fire Battalion Chief Marc Peebles. The rockslide also ruptured a gas line at the house, but no evacuations were necessary because the surrounding homes also were unoccupied, he said.

The slide sent debris onto nearby North Bay Road, shutting it down. County crews cleared the debris, but the risk of another slide led authorities to shut the road between the northern and southern intersections of Alpen Drive, Peebles said.

Devore Flooding

Rain transformed Devore streets into rushing rivers and debris-strewn obstacle courses.

Muddy, foot-deep water poured down the entire width of Kimbark Avenue. Rocks, rivulets of dirt and puddles of water covered Rancho Avenue.

A family requested to be evacuated from their home near a Devore KOA campground where two people were killed on Christmas 2003 when water, boulders and debris poured out of Cable Canyon, San Bernardino County Fire Battalion Chief Gary Bush said.

With heavy rains expected overnight, Bush said rescue crews were pre-positioned near flood-prone areas. "We're really keeping an eye on the foothill areas of Devore and Lytle Creek," he said

The CHP closed the north and south lanes of Interstate 215 at Palm Avenue on Sunday morning after mud, rocks and water flooded the center lanes and the I-15 interchange.

Northbound I-215 traffic backed up for more than two miles, stretching from the Palm Avenue exit to University Parkway.

Railroad Tracks Flooded

In Fontana, storm runoff rose from the San Sevaine Storm Channel south of Interstate 10 and flooded the Union Pacific Railroad tracks near Etiwanda Avenue, county spokesman Wert said. Other county officials said interstate natural gas lines beneath the channel have been shut off, but no residential customers were affected.

The storm also flooded part of Union Pacific's Colton switching yards, rail lines north of Santa Barbara and east of Las Vegas, said John Bromley, a Union Pacific spokesman. The storm largely halted the company's rail traffic into and out of Southern California, he said.

Victorville Levee Eroded

With state water officials releasing water from Silverwood Lake, the Mojave River was flowing "bank-to-bank" through Victorville, eroding a levee built to protect the town's railroad depot, some rail lines and nearby homes, said Ted Golondzinier, assistant director for San Bernardino County Public Works.

"We have crews doing emergency work to build a levee behind it (the eroding levee) so that when it fails, there will be another levee to take its place," Golondzinier said.

Golondzinier noted that heavy rains were expected to pound the region overnight.

"The ground is soaked and anything can happen," he said. "We're just keeping our fingers crossed."

Staff writers Elena Arnold, John Berry, Tammy McCoy, Lys Mendez, Bettye Wells Miller and Kimberly Trone contributed to this story.

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