Deluges expose the soggy side of life in L.A.

Rains - and the accompanying risks of mudslides and floods - are familiar to lifelong Californians. But this year's soaking may set a record.

Channel 7 is live at mudslides in Pasadena. Channel 4 is live at an uprooted tree in Woodland Hills.

Channel 2 is live at a submerged intersection in Hacienda Heights.

Conchita DelGado is live on her bedroom easy chair, eating toaster pastries and channel surfing. "It happens every year," says the freelance magazine writer. "Winter rain storms are the only time all year when Los Angelenos have a legitimate reason to hole up inside and not go anywhere."

But this is hardly rainy season as usual in the Southland - especially after years of drought during which the word "mudslide" has become little more than a vague memory.

Epic deluges - including about seven inches of rain in the past week here - are putting this year on course to possibly set a record for rainfall in the region.

The winter storms have given residents like Ms. DelGado better reason to stay inside than most years - unless those homes happen to sit on saturated soil.

Mudslides in coastal La Conchita made national headlines last month when 10 residents were killed.

At least six deaths in the state have been blamed on the latest storms, including victims of landslides, traffic accidents, falling trees, and flooding.

A flash flood watch remained in effect Tuesday for much of southern California. Northern California also was hit by severe thunderstorms, hail, and at least two afternoon tornadoes in the Sacramento area that uprooted trees and damaged roofs.

Clogged drains shut down a section of the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles for several hours late Monday, flooded by as much as five feet of water.

A total of 31.40 inches of rain has fallen here since July 1, the start of the region's annual "water year" measuring period, the fifth wettest on record. The record is 38 inches in 1883-84.

The more upbeat news has involved rescues: Harbor Patrol officers battled high waves off the coast of Santa Barbara to rescue a man whose sailboat was adrift with no mast and no engine power. They couldn't get close enough to pull him from the vessel, so they had him jump overboard and dove in after him.

Another dramatic extraction involved an elderly woman, stuck in a fast-submerging sedan, saved by a patrolman who glided up to her window on a surfboard.

Even without the advice from Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn - "to enjoy the Presidents' Day holiday in the comfort of home" - the city's rain-as-high-drama culture was already in full commando mode. It is a way of life that is as peculiar to recently inaugurated émigrés as it is familiar to to lifelong residents.

"It rained here the other day, and the story led every local newscast," quipped Craig Ferguson, recently appointed host of CBS's "Late, Late Show," an émigré from Scotland. "What kind of town is this?"

San Fernando resident Bill Stierle, who grew up in rainy Florida, asked that question when he moved here 15 years ago. Now he knows.

"I think the city gets weird," says the business consultant and father of two. Hard clay soils in many regions send more runoff into streets than most American cities - turning intersections in bumper-deep, aquatic wonderlands. Traffic is stalled, brakes are rendered somewhere between "less safe" to "downright dangerous."

Because it rains so infrequently - rain days can be calculated on just two hands in most areas - the buildup of oil and grease on roadways is also significantly more dangerous.

Five years ago, the runoff from hillsides and surrounding areas rose high enough to soak everything in Mr. Stierle's apartment. "Now," he says, "I get anxious when I see the water rising at the curb."

"Rising at the curb," is not exactly the phrase Lindy Taylor uses to describe the torrents of water that pour down the canyon roads from the Santa Monica Mountains during rainstorms - shooting out into traffic in the San Fernando Valley on one side, and into Beverly Hills and Hollywood on the other.

"I call that a water show," she says, sitting at a cafe near Coldwater Canyon, where street runoff has gathered such velocity that it is shooting six feet in the air off the back of a parked Honda. "As soon as I can, I'm headed home and out of this nonsense."

But at home, when they turn on the TV, Los Angeles residents can be assured of one thing: almost as many views of the rain-soaked city as there are egos about to be crushed at the Oscars this Sunday.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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