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DISASTERS

Spring storm dumps snow in mountains, rain in LA

March 20: After confirming no one was trapped in this stalled car, a Los Angeles Fire Department engine company moves on to other flooded cars on Vineland Avenue in the North Hollywood area of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. The first day of spring arrived with a bang in Southern California on Sunday, bringing heavy snow to the mountains and illuminating the sky with flashes of lightning from Santa Barbara to downtown Los Angeles.AP2011

A storm brought strong rains to the Los Angeles area and heavy snow in the mountains on the first day of spring Sunday, shutting down major highways, cutting power to thousands and forcing dozens of evacuations over threats of mudslides or rising rivers.

Rain caused rock slides in Malibu and closed parts of the Pacific Coast Highway, while snow and ice force the shutdown of parts of Interstate 5 connecting Los Angeles with northern areas.

In the San Fernando Valley, mud and debris threatened a retaining wall and forced the evacuation of 30 people in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Diana Igawa said.

The National Weather Service said Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley received at least 3 inches of rain — its average rainfall for the month of March — which led to closure of several streets. More than 1.5 inches pelted coastal cities and more than 2 inches fell on Hollywood, the service said.

Strong wind downed trees that damaged homes and broke windows in the valley, downtown Los Angeles and throughout the region. The storm cut power to about 90,000 customers, utility officials with the utilities said.

The mountains were expected to get as much as 3 feet of snow at the higher elevations, making this an unusually strong storm for this time of year, said Stuart Seto of the weather service.

"Usually later in the year they kind of taper off," he said. "Old Man Winter, I guess, wanted to take one more bite out of us before leaving."

Thousands of runners in the Los Angeles Marathon faced pouring rain and lightning strikes, one of which illuminated the downtown skyline just as the race started. It didn't seem to bother them, as Markos Geneti finished first among men with a record time of 2 hours, 6 minutes, 35 seconds.

"When it first started raining, it was freezing cold and I got a little sick," Amy Hastings, who finished second among the women, told KTLA-TV. As the weather warmed, she said, the rainfall made for a pleasant experience.

Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics had treated about 100 runners — most for hypothermia — by mid-afternoon, Igawa said.

In Ventura County and Santa Barbara County, torrential rain brought flash-flood warnings. Rain on a flooded street in Oxnard stranded several cars and swept away another, the weather service said. No injuries were reported.

More than 10 inches of rain fell in the Lake Cachuma area, forcing the release of water from Bradbury Dam, Santa Barbara County spokesman David Flamm said. The release was helping the lake level off, but heavy river flow forced the evacuation of 24 people in Guadalupe as a precaution, Flamm said.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol rescued a family of four — including a 6-month-old baby and a dog — whose sailboat broke loose from its moorings amid high surf and strong wind. No one was injured.

Flood warnings also were issued for Los Angeles-area hillside communities burned by wildfires in recent years. But in the foothill community of La Canada Flintridge, where more than 40 homes were destroyed by a mudslide last year, resident Lien Yang said the streets were clear of mud and debris.

"I think we'll be OK this year," he said. "This looks like it's the last significant storm of the year."