California braces for more wild weather

SEBASTOPOL, Calif. -- After a weekend of heavy rain and wind, Northern Californians braced for more wet weather as forecasters predicated a similar storm that would pour as much as five more inches of rain on some regions by Monday.

By 4 p.m. Sunday about 72,500 Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers from Eureka to Bakersfield remained without power, down from almost 100,000 earlier in the day. The North Coast counties of Marin and Sonoma -- with heavily wooded areas and rural neighborhoods -- had some of the highest numbers of outages, said spokesman Paul Moreno.

The Pacific storm, the first in a series barreling down on the state from the Gulf of Alaska, soaked much of the state and the rain is expected to continue through the week.

In Sebastopol, most of the storefronts were dark Sunday morning. Residents gathered in the candlelit Lucy's Cafe for hot coffee and pastries baked in the restaurant's brick oven.

"It was wild," Gloria Turchi said of the storm. "There were a lot of trees uprooted. It blew off the shingles on our roof." Turchi said her home was without power or a working phone line.

High winds, expected to hit the area again Sunday night and Monday, knocked down trees and fences in Petaluma, said Lt. Dave Sears of the Petaluma Police Department.

Winds reached 80 miles an hour in the coastal mountain town of Cazedero, said National Weather Service forecaster Bob Benjamin.

"It was amazing," said Cazedero resident David Prokop. "It's a mess, there's wires everywhere."

The wild weather caused a number of accidents throughout the state.

Alex Lopez, 23, of Modesto was killed Saturday when his Nissan Sentra crashed into a Toyota 4-Runner near Dublin.

Tamara James, 25, was given a scare when a 50-foot oak tree crashed through her bedroom roof as she slept early Saturday. It missed her by only a few inches.

"I definitely feel very, very lucky," said James, who was unharmed. It took firefighters about 15 minutes to free her from underneath the tree.

Another narrow escape occurred in San Francisco's Russian Hill neighborhood when the gusty wind blew a section of scaffolding off a six-story building. The falling debris broke a man's leg and dented and scratched several cars.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. workers used the lull in the storm Sunday to repair power lines; Moreno said 83 miles of wire needed replacement.

"There's no rest," he said. "The other storms are going to hit us before the very last customer has been restored. But our crews are working around the clock."

The Sierras got a hefty blanket of snow over the weekend. On Lake Tahoe's north shore, Alpine Meadow spokeswoman Gwen Robinson said she expected the conditions to be excellent once the wind died down, "considering the 32 inches of powder up at the top."

"It's been snowing all morning," she said.

Snowfall averaged one to two feet in the Sierra Nevada over the weekend, and the same amount was expected to fall above 5000 feet through Monday.

While high surf warnings for waves up to 25 feet remained through Tuesday along the North Coast, Southern California got a little taste of the storm.

Even surfers who live for giant swells said the waves off Southern California were too big to brave.

"I'm not going out there, that's what's going through my mind. That looks way too big and way too dangerous for me," surfer Paul Gongaware told KABC-TV in Manhattan Beach.

"It looks pretty heavy today. It looks like there's more spectators than people actually going out," said surfer Khanh Phan.

The Los Angeles metropolitan area received about a hundredth of an inch of rain on Sunday -- a tiny amount, but enough to slick the county's freeways. The California Highway Patrol reported 192 collisions throughout the county between 4 and 9 a.m. During the same period a week ago, the CHP logged just 70 collisions, Officer Francisco Villalobos said.

The rain contributed to the scrubbing of the launch of a military satellite aboard a Titan II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Navy spokesman Richard Williamson said.

On Monday, a second storm was expected to hit Southern California. Los Angeles could receive two-thirds of an inch of rain, National Weather Service meteorologist Bruce Rockwell said. Snow levels could dip to 7,000 feet.

"Tomorrow is going to be the biggest day," he said.


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