California crews remove last vehicle stuck in mud, search for missing driver

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Crews on Monday hauled away the last of more than 100 cars buried by mud on a California highway during flash flooding last week, but tons of hardened mud still needs to be removed before traffic starts flowing again, officials said.

They added that search teams were still looking for a 67-year-old man reportedly swept away last week.

Kern County sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said Monday that Richard Harvell of Boron was last seen Thursday evening while trying to save his truck from a torrent of mud. Pruitt says Harvell's truck was later found a short distance away in the Rosamond area.

Drainage systems also needed to be cleared along an 8-mile stretch of State Route 58 in Kern County, about 110 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, said Florene Trainor, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation. Officials hope to reopen the highway east of Tehachapi by Thursday at the latest.

Geologists determined that nearby hillsides were stable, so there were no fears of another mudslide if it started raining again, Caltrans officials said. The area got some weekend drizzle, but no serious rain since powerful thunderstorms Oct. 15 triggered landslides that trapped dozens of cars, buses, RVs and big-rig trucks on the highway.

To the south, Los Angeles County crews reopened stretches of five roads in mountain communities about 40 miles north of Los Angeles that also were inundated during the flooding.

The reopening Sunday came "well ahead of original forecasts," with more than 40 bulldozers, dumptrucks and other heavy equipment working through the weekend to shift an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of mud, according to a Los Angeles County Public Works statement. Work continued on two other roads in the Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth areas.

Hundreds of cars also got stuck on Interstate 5, a major artery, but those vehicles were removed and the freeway reopened late Friday.

Homeowners in northern Los Angeles County communities spent their weekend digging mud out of their houses.

At least one of the homes in the area is considered a total loss after flooding ripped it from its foundation, Kerjon Lee, a spokesman for county Public Works, said Saturday. Crews were assessing homes in the area, and Lee said the number of those destroyed could rise.