California Storms: Authorities Rush to Save Home as Residents Refuse to Flee

Authorities rushing to save homes as residents refuse to flee storms.

Jan. 21, 2010 — -- Pelted by a deluge of stinging rain in 60 mph winds, California residents say they've have had enough of the wicked weather that has forced evacuations and flooded highways.

But the worst may be yet to come.

"This weather event is not over," Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said.

In Southern California, police were forced to shut down a section of the busy U.S. Route 101 after rains of more than an inch per hour flooded the streets around San Pedro. In Burbank, two passengers were hospitalized after lightning struck two Southwest Airlines planes as they landed.

And in La Canada Flintridge, a growing fear of mud slides has officials frantically clearing out debris basins scorched by wildfires in September, the last line of defense for nearby homes.

Authorities have been going door-to-door there, begging residents to evacuate. But fewer than half are leaving, their homes marked by pink ribbons.

"We've been here for 100 years, so we might as well stay a little bit longer," La Canada resident Frances Tucker said.

Henrik Hairapetian, a La Canada resident, also wasn't buying it.

"The plan is to wait it out because they've been crying wolf so long that this may not be it. This is ridiculous," he said.

While the rain and wind wreaks havoc in Southern California, residents up north battle up to 2 feet of snow in the mountains as well as ice that has forced highways to close.

Up and down the state, concerns about damage to the coastline weigh heavily on authorities. Each storm has come in with 15- to 35-foot waves and winds of up to 80 mph.

In Pacifica, the erosion is so severe that an oceanfront apartment building is dangerously close to falling into the ocean.

"We're about as ready for the rains that will be coming as we can be," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. "If you don't have to be on the road, why don't you stay home?"

It Never Rains in California (Not Like This)

Scientists and government officials said luck had been with Californians so far, but there was no guarantee that a hillside might not suddenly give way.

"In many cases the water can't soak into the mountain because the fires made the soil somewhat impermeable," said Lucile Jones at the U.S. Geological Survey. "The water starts sliding over the land, and it reaches a critical point at which it starts to pick up material underneath it."

The Western U.S. has, of course, had bad winter weather before, but scientists said this series of storms is caused by the Arctic Oscillation, a vast shift in air pressure over the Northern Hemisphere that has pushed low-pressure systems south from Canada.

"The rains are continuing to hit this area," said Mike Antonovich, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. "We've pledged the full support of any resources and all resources needed by public works, the sheriff, the fire and animal control to protect life and property during this devastating storm."

South of Los Angeles, near Long Beach and Huntington Beach, at least four funnel clouds were reported Tuesday -- rare in California, and especially so in winter. Gary Sewall was in Huntington Harbor when he said he saw a catamaran lifted 50 feet in the air.

"I saw what looked like a water spout that was circling around," he said, "and then we saw the boat out across the channel go up in the air and come crashing down."