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California dries off after storms batter state for days

January 18, 2019
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Southern California Gas Company, SoCalGas employees check residential broken gas lines, as a vehicle is buried under mud and concrete slabs as debris slid early morning from beneath a house in Los Angeles, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. No one was hurt. The three-day drenching put a dent in California's drought. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Thoroughly saturated and muddied California was drying out and cleaning up Friday in the aftermath of Pacific storms that dumped heavy rain and snow throughout the state.

For the first time in days sunlight poked through clouds trailing the latest weather system, which was impacting the Rocky Mountains region as it headed east.

The storms deepened the Sierra Nevada snowpack, a key part of California’s water supply, but officials warned of backcountry avalanche danger.

The drought-plagued state received rainfall totals that meteorologists termed “impressive” but the deluge also left muddy messes that kept some roads closed due to flooding and the danger of rock falls in canyons.

The state, however, avoided a repeat of the disaster that hit the community of Montecito a little over a year ago when a downpour on a wildfire burn scar unleashed deadly debris flows.

Lifting of evacuation orders allowed residents to return to various areas, including portions of Malibu scarred by a huge November wildfire that stripped vegetation from surrounding mountains.

“The potential for falling rocks, mud and debris flow still exists and residents should maintain good situational awareness when re-entering the area,” a city statement said.

A Malibu hiker was critically injured by a boulder on Thursday and more than a dozen people, mostly homeless were rescued from swollen Southern California rivers. At least six deaths were reported statewide during the stormy weather. Causes ranged from falling trees to traffic accidents.

Others narrowly avoided harm.

In Echo Park, a hilly neighborhood on the edge of downtown Los Angeles, Michael Osborne was asleep when a wall of mud came crashing into the home next door before dawn Thursday.

“I heard someone rummaging through the recycling cans outside and then I just heard an enormous crash and multiple car-alarms went off,” the actor and filmmaker said Friday.

“It felt kind of apocalyptic,” he added. “It was pitch black and I had just woken up from the crash and I didn’t know what was going on.”

The mudflow blocked the front door of Osborne’s duplex and he and his upstairs neighbors had to force it open, but he said the home appeared otherwise undamaged.

The residence next door was badly damaged and authorities declared it uninhabitable. Osborne said the slide also left neighborhood gas and sewage lines exposed.

“As far as I know, our building is structurally sound,” he said.

According to the state Department of Water Resources’ daily hydrologic update, Sierra Nevada snow water content to date was 107 percent of average in the north, 102 percent in the central area and 99 percent in the south.

Multi-day rainfall totals topped 10 inches (254 millimeters) in places like Big Sur and the mountains of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The San Francisco Bay/Monterey office of the National Weather Service said that region was now at 85 percent to 90 percent of normal rainfall at this point in the season.

“A big improvement!” the office tweeted.

On a section of the Central Coast where runoff into local reservoirs is critical to water supplies the wet weather has helped lower its drought intensity rating from extreme to moderate. But officials said more rain is needed.

In Santa Barbara County, the Gibraltar Reservoir filled Thursday and began spilling water that flows to long-suffering Lake Cachuma, a much larger reservoir which was only at 35 percent of capacity, KEYT-TV reported.

“We’re still in a drought, it’s great to be getting this rain and we’re continuing to hope that maybe this will be the year that fills Cachuma,” Rebecca Bjork, city of Santa Barbara public works director, told the station.

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