SEDONA, Ariz. – A powerful storm battered the West for a third straight day Wednesday, forcing dozens of people from their homes, sending recreational vehicles floating down a flooded creek in Arizona and turning Southern California freeways into a virtual demolition derby.
The storm spawned a tornado (search) in Southern California and left 140,000 customers without power in the area while making for treacherous driving conditions. The California Highway Patrol logged 220 crashes between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning — more than three times the normal amount.
Authorities also reported hundreds of crashes around Las Vegas, and firefighters rescued several stranded motorists — including a police officer whose patrol car was swamped by rising water. The storm dropped 1.58 inches of rain; Las Vegas normally receives 4.43 inches a year. No property damage or serious injuries were reported.
Several neighborhoods were evacuated because of flooding in low-lying areas of Sedona, where Oak Creek (search) rose about 12 feet to about a foot above flood stage. The storm dumped up to 21/2 inches of rain there within a few hours early Wednesday.
Later, as showers decreased, the creek receded to 91/2 feet and Sedona (search) authorities said the threat of further evacuations had diminished.
"I've been here since 1977. ... This is the worst," said Marc Spector, owner of the Hideaway Restaurant, which is perched on a cliff overlooking Oak Creek.
Some homes had minor flooding and people were stranded in water-logged vehicles in Sedona, a town of some 10,000 people surrounded by towering red rock formations that draw hundreds of thousands of tourists.
Large RVs were seen floating down Oak Creek southwest of Sedona. The rain also caused rock slides, authorities said.
Sedona fire officials initially said 300 residents were being evacuated, but later Wednesday said they were unsure on the number.
Sixty miles away in Prescott, authorities searched for two missing college students after their canoe capsized in a flooded creek, said Susan Hampton, a spokeswoman for the city. A third student got out of the water to look for help, and part of the missing canoe was recovered. The search was expected to resume at dawn Thursday.
The California tornado struck two Los Angeles suburbs after midnight, ripping the roof off a house, snapping trees and damaging cars, but causing no injuries.
"I heard sort of a low rumbling noise, sort of like a freight train and shortly after that, I heard a ripping noise — obviously, that was my roof," resident Derek Williams told KCAL-TV. "Thank God everyone was OK in the house."
Storm-related deaths since Monday mounted to five in California, and several highways were closed because of flooding and mudslides, officials said. High wind in San Diego County snapped off the top 200 feet of the KSON radio tower in National City.
By early Wednesday, downtown Los Angeles had logged 6.37 inches of rain since late Sunday. Tuesday's total alone was 5.55 inches, the city's rainiest December day since record-keeping started in 1877. On Monday, San Francisco was hit by more than 3 inches of rain and suburban Marin County got more than 7 inches.
In Utah, 19 inches of snow fell at the Brian Head Resort, but skiers couldn't take advantage of it because 70 mph wind prevented the resort from starting its chair lifts.