Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Thursday in nine counties damaged by more than two weeks of severe rainstorms and flooding.

The declaration helps accelerate the flow of state dollars to local and county response agencies that have been straining to cope.

Schwarzenegger visited a vulnerable levee by the San Joaquin river, where state conservation crews protected nearby houses with layers of sandbags.

Although the biggest danger had passed, there was still concern that excess water released by dams in the Sierra Nevada would wind its way to the narrow river channel bordering Firebaugh and push through the earthen berms, state water officials said.

Schwarzenegger also warned that the state needed to shore up its levees. The governor is seeking $6 billion in state money for levee repairs. He wanted $3 billion from the federal government but has received no assurances the Bush administration will provide it.

"We've seen one big disaster in New Orleans, and we want to make sure we don't go through something like that," he said.

Meanwhile, in Marin County, authorities recovered the body of a 73-year-old man who was buried in a mudslide early Wednesday, said Mill Valley Fire Department Battalion Chief Greg Moore.

In Merced County in the Central Valley, residents who were evacuated last week were finally allowed to return to their homes. Authorities said a massive slide was threatening eight to 10 houses in a remote part of the Santa Cruz mountains south of San Francisco.

Gary Bardini, chief of hydrology and flood operations for the Department of Water Resources, said river levels remain high across the state, although lower than feared last week after rains moved to the coast.

"Things are certainly within manageable levels right now," Bardini said.

Earlier this week, Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in seven other counties.

A third storm system is on track to pour another half inch of rain in northern California beginning Sunday, said Elizabeth Morse of the National Weather Service in Sacramento.