USA — After six days of pounding rain, more was forecast across California Wednesday, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for six Southern California counties, authorities began evacuations and concern grew about potential mudslides in the wildfire-scarred foothills outside Los Angeles.
To the east, a northwestern Arizona weather station recorded at least 10 inches of rain Tuesday, while rainfall ranged from 10 to 14 inches in southwestern Utah.
Downtown Los Angeles received one-third of its annual average rainfall in less than a week. On Tuesday, the rain gauge at the University of Southern California campus recorded 5.77 inches. Forecasters said an additional 2 inches was expected there through Wednesday.
Up to 2 inches of rain per hour was expected in areas primed for a major mudslide by last year’s wildfire in suburbs just north of the city.
In San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, the normally dry Mojave River was running 17 feet deep and overflowing onto the roadway, said Tracey Martinez, spokeswoman for the county’s fire authority.
The storm was expected to drop a total of 10 ½ to 15 ½ feet of snow at Mammoth Mountain, about five hours northeast of Los Angeles in the Eastern Sierra.
A mudslide closed one street in the La Jolla area of San Diego.
Farther inland in Riverside, a surge of water swept through a homeless camp near the banks of the Santa Ana River.
So far, authorities say, there were two traffic fatalities caused by the rain in Northern California.
Mudslides are a significant risk for three years after a fire and are especially likely anytime the rainfall rate reaches or exceeds one inch per hour, said Susan Cannon, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
That’s a likely scenario Tuesday night into Wednesday in the area burned by last year’s Station Fire, which charred 250 square miles above the suburbs tucked below the San Gabriel Mountains.
The rain was a boost for drought-stricken farmers and cities statewide that have been forced to patrol water use after three bone-dry years.
Water content in the snowpack in California’s mountains was at 197 percent of normal and 169 percent of the average measurement for April 1 traditionally the date when the snow’s water content is at its peak, said Ted Thomas, spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources.
Floodwaters on Tuesday ripped through a retirement community in northwestern Arizona, washing away four unoccupied homes and threatening to destroy others.
Zion National Park also was evacuated and shut down, as floodwaters wiped out one of two bridges to the southern Utah town of Gunlock.
In southern Nevada, rain-swollen creeks closed some roads in the Las Vegas area and nearby Mount Charleston, a popular tourist destination, was buried under 2 feet of snow.