California Storms Spawn Tornadoes and Landslides; Six Killed

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A deadly series of storms across California spawned tornadoes, landslides and avalanches as persistent rain flooded freeways and golf courses and sent mud roaring into homes.

At least six people were killed, including a Nevada woman caught in an avalanche while on a cross-country skiing trip north of Lake Tahoe and a 24-year-old man who lost control of his car and crashed in San Bernardino.

Forecasters said Tuesday that while the strong system would bring at least another inch of rain in Southern California, it was losing strength and could move out of the region by Wednesday afternoon.

''I think we've probably seen the worst of the storm,'' National Weather Service meteorologist Ted MacKenchnie said. ''We should start seeing a decrease in the activity.''

A flash flood watch remained in effect across much of Southern California on Tuesday, the NWS said.

Authorities said Monday that dozens of homes were evacuated or red-tagged because they threatened to collapse from sliding hillsides.

A traffic accident in San Bernardino killed Richard Ceballos, a father of four who told his family he hoped to marry his girlfriend next weekend in Las Vegas. Ceballos' car hit another vehicle Monday morning, skidded off Highway 30 and down an embankment into a tree.

In San Diego County, Scot Blevin, 35, of Ramona, was killed Monday when a eucalyptus tree fell on his pickup truck as he was driving in Scripps Ranch. Two other people died in vehicle crashes in the county, but it was unclear whether slick roads contributed to the accidents.

A teen girl and 61-year-old man were killed in separate landslides and three women were temporarily trapped in about 10 feet of mud that spilled into a townhouse in the Los Angeles suburb of Hacienda Heights. A Los Angeles civil engineer, Rory Shaw, 47, died after being swept into a 30-foot sinkhole he was assessing.

In Northern California, 45-year-old Gerilyn Marie Ewing, of Reno, Nev., died in an avalanche Sunday while skiing between the Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley ski resorts north of Lake Tahoe. Two other skiers with her were trapped but either escaped or were rescued, Placer County sheriff's Sgt. Dave Wells said. Up to 20 inches of snow fell in the area since Thursday.

Northern California also was hit by severe thunderstorms, hail and at least two afternoon tornadoes that caused minor damage in the Sacramento area. Trees were uprooted and roofs and fences damaged in the tornadoes, while residents reported seeing other funnel clouds in the area.

''The impact of the storm lifted my car up in the air and back down ... about 15 inches ... it was unbelievable,'' Woodrow Parker, who was driving when the tornado hit, told KCRA-TV in Sacramento.

Off the coast of Santa Barbara, Harbor Patrol officers early Monday battled strong waves and winds to rescue Jim Catlin, a one-legged man who was stranded on a 27-foot-long boat that had been floating at sea with no mast for sails and no engine.

When the rescuers couldn't get close enough to pull Catlin from the vessel, they tossed a float into the water for him to catch. He jumped in and they then dove in after him.

''You couldn't see what was coming. We were holding on for dear life,'' said officer Jan Martinez. ''The waves were coming at such close intervals we'd push up through one, then come down just as another one was breaking on us.''

Mudslides forced Amtrak officials to suspend service from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara at least through Tuesday. Service between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo was expected to resume next Monday.

In Los Angeles, a section of the Hollywood Freeway was shut down for several hours late Monday when lanes were flooded in as much as five feet of water. Crews pumped the water out of the highway.

The wild weather came from a series of storms that began battering the state on Thursday, dumping 6.5 inches of rain in downtown Los Angeles.

A total of 31.40 inches of rain has fallen since July 1, when California begins its yearly measurements, making it the fifth wettest season on record. The record, 38.18 inches, was set in 1883-1884.

The consecutive days of rain proved too much for saturated hillsides in Southern California.

Early Monday, a mudslide ripped into the bedroom of a home in the San Fernando Valley, burying Robert Wickham, 61, under four feet of mud. And in the rural Silverado Canyon area east of Irvine, large boulders crashed into an apartment bedroom and crushed 16-year-old Caitlin Oto. Boulders also crashed into a local country store.

A family evacuated their home in Clairemont, in San Diego County, when 4 feet of mud oozed down a hillside and into their home.

''We didn't know how much time we had to get things out, so we just started grabbing things and going as fast as we could,'' Jon Schwartz, 15, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The rain was causing problems for pro golfers. Adam Scott won the Nissan Open in Los Angeles but won't get an official victory on the record books because the third round was called off when the wet Riviera Country Club was deemed unfit for play. In Carlsbad, the La Costa Country Club was full of standing water, threatening the scheduled Wednesday start of a World Golf Championships match play tournament.

Some in Southern California made the most of their flooded streets. Young men in Huntington Beach tied ropes onto the back of a truck and surfed on skim boards as it plowed through the water. And in San Diego, Skip Stratten climbed into his ocean kayak and paddled among flooded apartments and businesses.

A spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department said there were no major slides or reports of significant flooding in the county, where a landslide killed 10 people last month in the coastal community of La Conchita.