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Calif. Homes Slide Down Hillside

February 8, 1998

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Five houses slid down soaked hillsides Saturday as the latest in a series of storms blew drenching rain through Northern California.

Cloudbursts dumped up to an inch of rain in some areas, and power outages blacked out 87,000 customers and shut down Bay Area Rapid Transit trains under San Francisco Bay for several hours.

However, dams and levees were reported in good shape as people worked to recover from last week’s devastating storms.

``It looks like we’re going to have a needed 24-to-36-hour break,″ National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Smith said at a briefing at the state-federal Flood Operations Center.

While California was wet, heavy snow was the problem in the East, where a supermarket in West Virginia had to be evacuated Saturday after its roof started to collapse under the weight. As much as 4 feet of snow had fallen in southern West Virginia in the past week. Thousands of people had no electricity in Kentucky.

Saturday’s storm in California was expected to be followed by light rain on Sunday and only clouds on Monday. But another storm moving across the Pacific could strike Tuesday or Wednesday.

``We’re still on the storm track,″ Smith said.

In Rio Nido, about 50 miles northwest of San Francisco, an early morning mudslide destroyed at least three houses and damaged two others, said Barbara McFarland of the Emergency Operations Center.

The mud flowed so fast that at one point emergency crews and home owners had to run from it, witnesses told KCBS radio.

Nobody was injured, but officials evacuated the residents of 300 other houses in the area for fear that they could be isolated by washouts or mudslides, she said.

Wind gusts of 125 mph were measured atop Mount Diablo in the east San Francisco Bay area, with gusts to 65 mph on the San Mateo coast. Bridges in the region were closed to trucks, trailers and tall vehicles because of the wind.

The wind knocked trees into cars and houses in the Napa County wine country. One man was injured as he sat in his pickup.

``It felt like a 15-second earthquake,″ Michael Conroy said after an old elm tree hit his house.

Flooding also closed major roads, including Interstate 80 in Contra Costa County and California Highway 29 through Napa County.

``It’s hard to keep up with Mother Nature,″ said California Highway Patrol Officer Virgil Aguilar.

Power outages hit 129,000 homes and businesses in Northern California, said Chris Johnson of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Some 48,000 customers still were without power Saturday night.

Bay Area Rapid Transit service through the TransBay tube also was stopped for several hours by a morning power outage.

In snow-weary West Virginia, the roof of a Kroger’s store in Sophia sagged about a foot Saturday, forcing the evacuation of that and six other stores in a shopping plaza, said Bob Smith, a dispatcher at Raleigh County emergency services.

``We haven’t had any major collapses, but a lot of people are starting to discover the damage that’s been done,″ Smith said.

On Friday, another Kroger’s store roof caved in, injuring four people in Beckley.

Less than 200 customers were still without power Saturday in West Virginia, but an estimated 41,400 customers were still blacked out in Kentucky.

A Kentucky National Guard helicopter was sent out Saturday to carry food to snowbound residents of McCreary County, but the aircraft was forced to land in an adjoining county because of poor visibility in low clouds, said Don Armstrong, spokesman for Kentucky’s Disaster and Emergency Services.

Forty-five emergency shelters remained in operation in Kentucky.

``We didn’t have any electric and that’s what we heat with, so we came to the shelter. We knew we couldn’t stay covered up like we were with the quilts,″ said Shirley Crowe of the rural community of Possum Run.

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