- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2005

LA CONCHITA, Calif. (AP) — A huge mudslide crashed down on homes in a coastal hamlet with terrifying force yesterday, killing at least two persons and leaving up to 12 missing as a Pacific storm hammered Southern California for a fourth straight day.

Ventura County Fire Department Chief Bob Roper said as many as a dozen residents were missing in the mudslide that pummeled a four-block area of homes in tiny La Conchita, about 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

Nine persons were injured, including a 60-year-old man who was buried for three hours.

“It lasted a long time. It was slow-moving. The roofs of the houses were crashing and creaking real loud and there was a huge rumble sound,” said Robert Cardoza, a construction worker who was clearing debris from a nearby highway.

As rescuers combed the debris, geology experts with air horns watched the hillside above, ready to sound an alarm if it moved.

The mudslide brought the number of dead from the latest wave of storms to 11 in California. The storms have sent rainfall totals to astonishing levels, turning normally mild Southern California into a giant flood zone.

The hillside in La Conchita cascaded down like a brown river as authorities were evacuating about 200 residents from the area. Trees and vegetation were carried away, leaving huge gashes of raw earth on the bluff.

Some residents made their way from the area clutching pets, luggage or clothing as the huge mass of mud bore down. Some huddled together or cried as they talked on cellular phones. Fifteen to 20 houses were hit by the slide.

“You could hear people screaming and crying out, people honking their horns you know from on the highway and everybody looking up and running as fast as they can to get out,” said Kathleen Wood, a resident of La Conchita.

Rescuers dropped listening devices into the rubble to try to locate victims before another downpour of up to 2 inches of rain expected before dawn today.

The destruction at La Conchita was the worst disaster of the storms to date, but mudslides and flooding were reported throughout the region, blocking road and rail travel and forcing a shutdown of interstate petroleum-supply lines.

California’s death toll also includes a 2-year-old girl who slipped from her mother’s grasp as rescuers tried to hoist them from a car submerged on a road outside Los Angeles.

Elsewhere, avalanches killed two persons in Utah and one in Nevada — a 13-year-old snowboarder who was swept off a ski lift to his death. Also in Utah, a man was presumed dead after rushing water swept him off his vehicle.

From the start of the latest dose of violent weather on Friday through last night, several mountainous areas in Southern California had recorded more than 20 inches of rain, including more than 27 inches in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles.

A sinkhole and rockslides on the tracks forced Amtrak to suspend train service between Paso Robles in central California and Los Angeles.

The rain came on the heels of stormy weather that blasted the state earlier last week.

The average amount of winter rainfall in downtown Los Angeles is 15 inches, but nearly 22 inches had fallen as of yesterday, including a Jan. 9 record of 2.6 inches, said National Weather Service meteorologist Bruce Rockwell.

“I’ve never seen such a sustained event like this,” Mr. Rockwell said.

The heavy rainfall was being generated by a sluggish low-pressure system rotating off California and drawing a flow of moisture known as a “Pineapple Express” up from the subtropical Pacific near Hawaii.

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