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Floods, mudslides as storm wallops Southern California

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The second storm in a week brought record-breaking rainfall to parched Los Angeles on Thursday, jamming traffic on Southern California highways and prompting evacuations in wildfire-scarred areas.

A mudslide shut down Pacific Coast Highway and surrounding roads in and around Malibu neighborhoods charred by last month’s massive fire that destroyed hundreds of homes.

Kirby Kotler and his neighbors spent days before the storm stacking 18,000 sandbags behind their homes along the highway. But when heavy rains arrived, mud, water and rocks blasted through the bags and across their properties.

Kotler, who wielded water hoses to beat back the flames in November, used a tractor to keep the debris from entering his home.

“Saving my house once again,” said Kotler, 57, a lifelong Malibu resident. “I’m more than a little concerned. If we get another blast of heavy rain there’ll be no stopping the hill from coming down.”

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Malibu officials reported no injuries and no major property damage.

At Hollywood Burbank Airport, about 15 miles (33 kilometers) north of downtown Los Angeles, nobody was hurt when a Southwest Airlines plane from Oakland skidded off a wet runway as it landed. The plane came to a stop in a graded area designed to slow aircraft that overshoot the runway, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

“As we landed, you could feel the brakes,” passenger Grant Palmer told KABC-TV. “Then I started noticing the plane going sideways.”

Palmer said he was prepared to tuck into an emergency posture while his unflappable co-worker continued writing emails during the rough landing.

Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California sorely need rainfall. Virtually the entire region is experiencing drought conditions, with portions of Los Angeles and Ventura counties and areas along the Mexican border in extreme drought.

The storm provided a big boost in and around Los Angeles. The downtown area set a new rainfall record for the day with 1.9 inches (4.8 centimeters) of rain, nearly double the previous record set in 1997, the National Weather Service reported. Normal monthly rainfall for December is only a bit more — 2.33 inches.

While rain caused numerous accidents and backups on LA-area freeways, heavy snow forced the closure of Interstate 5 in the Grapevine area between Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley. The hours-long shutdown along the key north-south route caused backups for miles.

Motorists were urged to use caution on mountain passes, where up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) of snow was predicted at higher elevations.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for hundreds of homes in Trabuco Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains south of Los Angeles and Lake Elsinore neighborhoods in Riverside County. Both were burned in another massive wildfire earlier this year. Video showed a churning, muddy torrent full of tree trunks smashing down a bridge guardrail.

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In Orange County, flooding closed several schools. Floodwaters also submerged several cars in Costa Mesa and rain partially collapsed the roof of a commercial building in Irvine but no injuries were reported.

A portion of southbound State Route 170 in Los Angeles was shut down after mud flowed onto the roadway. Firefighters rescued motorists from cars stuck in a flooded intersection in the city’s North Hollywood area.

East of Los Angeles, a 13-car crash snarled the morning commute for several hours on a rainy freeway near Moreno Valley but caused only one minor injury, authorities said.

Firefighters also rescued a man from the flood-swollen Los Angeles River in suburban La Habra. Storm waters in the concrete flood-control channel have swept away people in previous years.

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