Sunny southern California yesterday received a taste of the kind of winter weather usually reserved for the rest of the nation as the worst storm in a decade killed five, and triggered mudslides, wrecked homes, blocked canyon roads, brought traffic to a near-standstill.
Torrential rains and high winds triggered walls of churning water, mud and debris, washing out at least two dams and one bridge. Lions escaped from an animal park. Bodies floated out of a rain-saturated cemetery, police said.
Pacific Coats Highway in the Topanga Canyon area was closed or several hours by a huge mudslide before state transportation crews forced open two lanes of traffic late in the morning.
Los Angeles harbor was closed after drifting debris from smashed docks and small boats made navigation hazardous. In Newport Beach in Orange County a wind recorded at 92 miles an hour destroyed the community's dock. Scores of persons were stranded in the canyons that traverse the Santa Monica Mountain foothill are within Los Angeles.
Interstate 10 between Los Angeles and San Bernardino was blocked because of flooding. many local roads, particularly in canyons, were closed Power lines were down in several regions and some telephone service also was out.
Los Angeles has received nearly three inches of rain in four days, most of it coming in a 10-hour period Thursday night and early yesterday morning. It brought the seasonal rainfall total in downtown Los Angeles to nearly 20 inches, nearly 50 per cent greater than the normal of 14 inches for an entire year.
Weather officials said that the dramatic change from drought to flood conditions was caused by storm shipped up in the Gulf of Alaska that usually are blocked out of southern California by a high-pressure ridge in the Pacific.
This ridge has now been depressed southward, allowing the storms free access to the coast. In the drought years of 1975 and 1976 the ridges was stronger and move northerly than usual, keeping most storms of California entirely.
At the Verdugo Hills Cemetery in Tujunga, at least two bodies washed out of old graves as water poured over a canyon dam, authorities said.
"We got a call from a citizen reporting a body in his front yard." Los Angeles police spokesman Carl Berlin told the Associated Press. He added that the old graveyard hadn't been used in nearly 50 years and some bodies apparently had been buried without coffins.
At the Little Africa movie animal compound in canyon country 35 miles north of Los Angeles, three lions whose cages were washed out sought drier ground. Sheriff's deputies shot and killed the frightened beasts with rifles after searching for the animals for several hours.
The National Weather Service expected the sun would appear for the weekend.
Los Angeles harbor, one of the busiest ports on the West Coast, was closed because it was so filled with debris that movement of ships was considered dangerous. Winds that were clocked at 92 mph destroyed many boats and ships at the fashionable Newport Beach marine.
The five deaths included two teenagers who fell into raging waters and were washed away by the torrent. A 17-year-old San Diego County youth was washed off a jetty, and a 14-year-old boy fell into a creek.
Two persons were killed when their car, stopped near a flooded intersection, was struck from the rear by another automobile in a hit-and-run accident.
The fifth storm victim died of an apparent heart attack while trying to move his car, smacked by a huge wall of water in West Los Angeles, police said.
Dozens of other persons were reported missing.
In the Hollywood Hills, cars floating on waves of water became entangled in stacks three high. Three women were reported flushed out of their car and swept down a road.A man who tried to help saw the woman float under his car, but was unable to help her or the others.
Former President Ford was forced off the golf course by 3 feet of water on the Indian Wells Country Club near Palm Springs. The Bob Hope Desert Classic golf tournament, in which Ford was competing, was delayed more than an hour.
A resident who escaped from the exclusive, residential communtiy of Hidden Springs in the Angeles National Forest said that "many people" were swept away, but the report could not be verified because the town has been totally isolated.
Heavy snow on routes between Los Angeles and San Francisco blocked north-south traffic. One of the hardest hit highways was Interstate 5 where a mudslide earlier this week blocked all traffic and claimed three lives.