2 dead as storm rips through Southern California

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CNN — The strongest storm to hit Southern California in recent years killed two people and caused torrential rains that left cars submerged on highways and blackouts across the region.

One of the people killed was found in a flooded vehicle in Victorville, San Bernardino County, firefighters said without providing details.

A second person — a 55-year-old man — was electrocuted when a power line fell Friday in Sherman Oaks, the fire department said.

As the heavy rains drenched the area, Duarte, a city northeast of Los Angeles, issued a mandatory evacuation order for residents of 200 homes.

More than 131,000 customers lost power Friday night in Southern California, officials said.

Strongest storm this season

Flash-flood warnings were in effect for Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the National Weather Service said. Parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties were under a similar watch.

The rain was so furious, a parking garage in Los Angeles turned into a waterfall.

In southwest California, the National Weather Service warned the area will see the strongest storm to hit this season. “It is likely the strongest within the last six years and possibly even as far back as December 2004,” the weather service said.

Rainfall totals by the National Weather Service showed parts of Santa Barbara County have seen more than 7 inches of rain in the past two days. Parts of Ventura County have seen totals of more than 6 inches.

While these areas will see the bulk of rain before the end of the weekend, parts of northern California can expect a storm late Monday into Tuesday. The question is how much impact that might have on Oroville Dam’s damaged spillway.

“Unfortunately, it looks like another storm will pound the region again on Monday,” CNN senior meteorologist Dave Hennen said. “Over the next week, areas around the dam could pick up another foot of rain, which will again likely raise the lake level.”

Earlier this week, authorities ordered evacuations over concerns that an emergency spillway at the dam could fail and threaten nearby communities.

On Tuesday, officials downgraded the evacuation order to a warning, allowing 188,000 evacuees from Butte, Sutter and Yuba counties to return home.

Parts of the south-facing foothills and coastal mountain slopes could see up to 10 inches of rain through the weekend, meteorologists said.

“The incessant heavy rains, expected to reach up to 1 inch per hour, will dramatically increase the threat of urban flooding, as well as mud and debris flows from recent burn areas near mountainous terrain,” CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said. “The highest elevations of Los Angeles and Ventura counties will likely experience 1 to 2 feet of snow, with near hurricane-force winds near the tops of mountain overpasses.”

Oroville Dam ‘is holding up’

The weather brings more worries for communities south of the Oroville Dam. Rainfall over the next seven days could total more than 12 inches.

But on Friday, officials were optimistic the dam and lake could handle the upcoming rain.

“We have generated a large volume of storage space so we can take on a very big storm,” said Bill Croyle, acting director of the California Department of Water Resources

The threat level has been reduced for residents living near the dam, but Butte County officials advised those returning to their homes to “remain vigilant and prepared.”

“The dam is holding up, it’s structurally sound,” said Jay Smith, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Flights canceled

More than 470 flights that originated at Los Angeles International Airport or were due to land there had been delayed. More than 130 were canceled, according to the flight tracking website FlightAware.com.

Santa Barbara Airport has one closed runway.

“The main airfield is under water and is closed for commercial activity,” director Hazel Johns said. Runway 7 has 6 to 9 inches of water on it.