The Los Angeles Times

February 10, 1998
by Julia Scheeres

After a week of punishing storms that claimed lives, damaged property, disrupted travel and dumped as much as 21 inches of rain, most of Southern California got a breather Monday.

The biggest exception was Malibu, where storm-driven surf gnawed at the underpinnings of several luxury beachfront homes in the Broad Beach area, leaving two of them severely battered and leaning precariously toward the sea.

Earthmoving crews labored throughout the day to save the homes, erecting sandbag walls and placing boulders after the pounding surf swept away a 20-foot section of sea wall.

A daring good Samaritan risked his life to turn off the utilities in one of the partially collapsed homes.

The first floor had already tumbled into the ocean when Randy Nauert scrambled up a broken tile floor to turn off the electricity. Nauert said that less than a minute after he got out of the structure, the second story came crashing down, spilling furniture into the ocean.

"I was like the beef in the sandwich," he joked later.

A few houses down, Susan and Joseph Cohen lost a 20-foot grassy patio area complete with 15-foot oak trees and tropical foliage.

"It was beautiful," Susan Cohen lamented as she gazed at a photo of the yard that had been there just days before.

In Orange County, residents built sandbag fortifications to turn back 7-foot waves atop 6-foot tides that attacked their oceanfront homes.

About 3,000 Metrolink commuters from the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys had to switch from the tracks to the highways for the commute to Los Angeles on Monday after the rains undermined a railroad bridge in Newhall. Railbed damage in Ventura County halted Amtrak service between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

For the rest of the Southland, Monday was a day to clean up, take stock, enjoy the sunshine and look forward to what promises to be a few rainless days--at least until Friday.

Forecasters said there appears to be a significant shift in weather patterns. It's a shift that should preclude--at least for a while--the sort of destructive downpours in Southern California that since Feb. 1 have dropped a total of 5.84 inches of rain at the Civic Center, 7.53 in Pasadena, 8.54 in Westwood, 11.52 in Agoura Hills, 13.18 in Woodland Hills and a staggering 21.59 inches on the San Marcos Pass above Santa Barbara.

Jeff House, a meteorologist with WeatherData Inc., which provides forecasts for The Times, said the winter storm track was swinging to the north Monday.

There are two new storm systems headed this way--one poised off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California, the second several thousand miles to the west, north of Hawaii. House said neither system appears to pack the punch of the storms that pummeled the West Coast over the weekend.

Because of the shift in the storm track, the first storm probably will bypass Southern California entirely, House said. No rain is expected in the Los Angeles area until the arrival of the second storm toward the end of the week, and what will happen then remains a question.

If the storm track stays north, the rain expected Friday in the Los Angeles area will be light. But House said that if the track swings south again--and there are signs that it might--the precipitation could be substantial, although not as strong as the rain last weekend.

Northern California is another story.

Warm temperatures and sunshine brought relief to much of the soggy region Monday, but House said moderate to heavy rain from the first storm could fall north of the Bay Area today.

"There will be a break up there on Wednesday," he said. "But more rain will come on Thursday from the second storm. It'll get there before it reaches Southern California."

Richard Andrews, director of the state Office of Emergency Services, said damage in California from the recent storms is estimated at $275 million to $300 million, and that includes only 22 of the 27 counties affected.

"We expect this figure to rise as we take stock," Andrews said.

President Clinton has designated all 27 counties as disaster areas, making them eligible for a variety of emergency relief benefits.

"My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the floods and mudslides," the president said.

Kate McGuire, a spokeswoman for the state flood center, said Northern California's vast flood control network, which succumbed to major flooding a year ago, is holding up well this year in spite of mounting pressure during the last few weeks.

"The system is under some stress from high flows, but it is not susceptible to any imminent danger," McGuire said. "Stress on the system has been building off and on but breaks in the storms give us opportunities to make repairs."

Although no major levee break has occurred during the latest series of storms, state and local crews have been busy reinforcing soft spots and constructing emergency berms in the Sacramento Valley.

The flood-swollen waters of Clear Lake, about 150 miles north of San Francisco, continued to rise Monday, despite the sunny skies. Most of the 500 residents whose property fronts on the lake ignored an evacuation notice.

In Los Banos, Army Corps of Engineers teams worked to reinforce berms protecting the city from the rapidly rising waters in a local reservoir.

"There's still more water coming in than coming out," said Carl deWing, a spokesman for the Office of Emergency Services. "It all depends on what the next storms do to us."

So many roads in Monterey County were damaged, flooded or covered by mud after last week's storms that the county is asking people who don't have to be there to stay away for a while. Residents were being notified that California 1 and other roads could be closed for weeks.

In Sonoma County, officials were keeping a close eye on the riverside community of El Nido, where three houses were destroyed by a mudslide and three others were damaged.

"The only word we have now is that things are extremely urgent," said Martha Rhodes, a spokeswoman for the county's Office of Emergency Services.

Times staff writers Mary Curtius and Carl Ingram in Sacramento contributed to this story.