Heavy rains triggered mudslides across Northern California on Wednesday that forced evacuations and one slide was believed to have buried a 73-year-old Mill Valley man in his backyard.

Firefighters were searching for the man who was reported missing after leaving his house to clear debris about 3 a.m., authorities said. The man was not immediately identified.

Three other homes were evacuated in the hilly community about 10 miles north of San Francisco. In Brisbane, about 10 miles south of San Francisco, three homes were evacuated after a mudslide struck a house.

A flood watch was in effect until 11 a.m. for parts of the Bay Area, the National Weather Service said.

Tuesday's storm dumped up to six inches of rain over 24 hours in parts of the Santa Cruz mountains. Forecasters predicted less than an inch of rain in the wettest hills along the coast on Wednesday.

Despite dire predictions earlier in the week, the storms were expected to spare the soggy San Joaquin Valley, reducing the danger of levee breaks there, but will raise river levels, forecasters said.

Crews in the San Joaquin Valley protected saturated levees with rocks, tarps and sandbags, but forecasters were cautiously optimistic that no more levees would fail in the state's central region.

"We've very fortunate that this current storm system is going to deliver its precipitation north of there," said Rob Hartman of the National Weather Service's California-Nevada River Forecast Center in Sacramento.

The Sacramento River valley and coastal rivers north of San Francisco will have heavy rain and high water over the next several days, but no widespread flooding, state and national forecasters said during a briefing Tuesday. Localized flash floods were likely, however.

"We're still looking at a copious amount of rainfall," said John Juskie, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento. "This is an evolving situation."

He warned the storm could veer from its projected path, and that more storms are on the way this weekend. The series of recent storms caused scattered levee breaks, washed out roads and forced hundreds of residents from their homes.

"As each day goes by, you wonder where you're going to go next," said Kim Klardie, 51, who rescued her three cats but little else when her travel trailer was washed away at the Fishermen's Bend camping resort at Newman. "God always comes through — he always has in the past."

She's been living since Saturday with about 80 other refugees in an American Red Cross shelter set up in the Orestimba High School gymnasium. About 18 rescued mobile homes and travel trailers are parked outside, and it could be months before the ground dries enough for the riverside resorts to reopen, shelter manager John Fonvergne said in a telephone interview.

Earlier predictions were dire this week, after forecasters said a storm expected to hit as early as Tuesday night could inundate the central part of the state, which is crisscrossed with fragile levees.

San Joaquin reservoirs have little room for snow melt, but the surge of water from recent rains was leveling off below the danger point that had been predicted, said Jay Punia, chief of flood operations for the state Department of Water Resources.

The state Department of Boating and Waterways closed San Joaquin County and Contra Costa County waterways in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to recreational boating through noon Friday because of the danger to boaters from high water and debris, and the fear that boat wakes could damage levees.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday declared a state of emergency in seven counties as one of the top-five wettest winters on record ended with record rainfall in March and an unusually wet start to April. The counties are Amador, Calaveras, Fresno, Merced, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Stanislaus.