California Storm: Authorities Order Evacuations Amid Flooding, Mudslides

More than 20 homes destroyed in mudslides as state of emergency is declared.

December 21, 2010, 3:06 AM

Dec. 22, 2010— -- A seemingly unending deluge in southern California has turned coastal cities into lagoons and inland areas into mud pits, forcing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency.

Some parts of the state have had an entire year's worth of rainfall in a single week.

Five separate storms have hit San Diego alone, leaving Qualcomm Stadium looking like a swimming pool. Still, tomorrow's Poinsettia Bowl is scheduled to be played.

Elsewhere in the city, one hotel, the Premiere Inn, was literally turned into an island, surrounded by water on all sides. Lifeguards were forced to bring in boats to rescue stranded guests.

"When I got in the water, it was freezing. I'm talking about it totally sent me through shock," said Tralita Stalcup, one of the guests who evacuated. "I was crying a little bit because I was scared."

The worst of the weather struck today, as Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for six counties in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Kern, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo and Tulare.

In Laguna Beach, a wall of water four feet high poured through downtown, bringing with it a tide of mud. The heavy water has made driving nearly impossible near the Pacific coast, with puddles the size of lakes forcing road closures.

This morning, a mudslide devastated the town of Highland, Calif., near the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. Most of the residents' cars are now buried in mud, and more than 20 homes were destroyed in just an instant.

Southern California authorities had issued mandatory evacuation orders for residents in mudslide-prone areas Tuesday night, but many elected to stay.

"All I heard was a big old roar of thunder, and I ran downstairs," said one resident. "By the time I got downstairs, I had a roaring river in my living room. I got nothing left!"

At appears that no one was hurt, but tonight many in the area do not know where they will be sleeping.

Californians Cope with a Week of Extreme Weather

For the past week, residents faced relentless rainfall along with snow and high winds.

Officials went door to door telling more than 200 homeowners in the foothill areas of La Canada Flintridge and La Cresenta that it was not safe.

"After a few days of saturation, obviously that's where our big concern is," Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Al Bustillos told ABC News Los Angeles affiliate KABC.

In February, the area was hit with a mudslide that damaged or destroyed more than 40 homes, according to the Associated Press.

Over the weekend, residents barricaded homes with sandbags and K-rails.

If residents refuse the mandatory evacuation, officials make them sign papers acknowledging they are on their own.

Since Friday, Southern California has been hit hard by heavy rains – creating scores of accidents and residents preparing to evacuate.

In the Lytle Creek area of San Bernardino County Tuesday night, a woman had to be rescued from her truck after she tried to drive through fast moving water.

"She's lucky. When she went off the edge, I thought we were going to be doing a body recovery. She was very fortunate," Greg McClintock of the San Bernardino County Fire Department told KABC.

Storm Moves East

California isn't the only state being pounded with heavy rain.

Arizona, Utah, and Nevada are under a flash flood watch with an additional three to six inches of rain possible from Los Angeles to Vegas.

Flooding from heavy rains destroyed at least four homes along the Beaver Dam Wash area Tuesday afternoon, the Tucson Citizen reported.

Utah officials have lifted an evacuation order for the town of Rockville after determining a dam on the Virgin River is not in danger of breaking.

Forecasters say the storm is moving east – bringing a white Christmas to places like Fargo, North Dakota and much of Minnesota.

Since Sunday, Utah's Wasatch Mountains received more than six feet snow with another two to four feet to come.

In Colorado, at least two to three feet of snow has fallen since Sunday and two to three feet more expected through Thursday.

ABC News' Mike Von Fremd, David Wright, Max Golembo and the Associated Press contributed to this report.