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Big storm hits California with rain, snow

John Antczak
Associated Press

Los Angeles — A pre-winter storm drenched California with rain and dumped nearly 3 feet of snow to help bolster the vital Sierra Nevada snowpack but also triggered mud flows, street flooding and the dramatic rescue Friday of two homeless women and 10 dogs from a river island near Los Angeles.

With thousands of acres of wildfire burn scars all over the state, authorities were warily monitoring barren slopes where parched earth soaked with rain can cause life-threatening mudslides.

Mud from the San Gabriel Mountains flowed into the foothill city of Duarte east of Los Angeles before dawn, affecting 18 homes where residents were told to not to leave, KCBS-TV reported. Firefighters rescued two people stuck in cars.

A helicopter was sent Friday morning to a homeless encampment on the small island in the San Gabriel River, where it hovered in rain between power lines as the two women, six puppies and four adult dogs were hoisted to safety.

When the Los Angeles County sheriff’s air rescue crew arrived, one of the women was on top of a shelter and the other was standing knee-deep in water, said Deputy Brice Stella, a tactical medic.

Stella hoisted one woman up but the other wanted to stay because she feared her dogs would be left behind. Stella convinced her to go into the helicopter by saying he’d do his best to rescue the dogs.

The helicopter crew emptied two large bags normally used to store gear, then lowered Stella down with the bags.

“I was able to fit all the dogs,” he said. “They actually looked well-cared-for.”

Earlier, torrential rain fell on the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles near the landmark Hearst Castle late Thursday and rockslides closed about 36 miles of Highway 1 in the region. Highway crews expected to have the scenic route reopened by midafternoon Friday. A weather station in the area recorded more than 5 inches of rain.

In the Sierra Nevada, the Tioga Pass entry point to Yosemite National Park received 35 inches of snow in 24 hours, the weather service said.

Building snowpack in the Sierra is critical for California’s water supply after five years of drought.

Roads into Yosemite Valley were open again Friday after being closed overnight due to potential flooding. The Merced River crested below flood stage, resulting in no major damage to park roads or operations.

The storm entered the northern end of the state early Thursday and moved south, continuing to drop rain through the Friday morning rush hours across Southern California.

Downtown Los Angeles, in a part of the state that has been categorized as in the midst of “extreme drought,” had collected 1.58 inches of rain from the storm by Friday morning.

Flooding submerged a large section of La Cienega Boulevard, one of the major routes to Los Angeles International Airport. Elsewhere in the county, a trucker was killed when a big rig overturned on a freeway early Friday.

In Hollywood, hundreds of people were pelted by rain for hours Thursday night as they stood outside trying to get into a rare Metallica concert at a small venue, the Henry Fonda Theater.

In Lancaster, north of Los Angeles, people out in the rain and wind were happy for the wintry holiday vibe.

“Just all of the sudden a little storm is kicking in,” Kara McDonald told KTTV-TV as she shopped in an elf hat. “We can sit around the fire and drink some hot chocolate.”

High winds in the Mojave Desert town of Victorville blew tumbleweeds into the air and send dozens or them covering the front yard of and entrance of a house.

The storm caused worry in some spots like burn areas, where fire station were handing out sandbags.