Surfers enjoy large waves at the entrance to Santa Barbara, California, harbor Saturday morning. (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

Southern California pounded by intense storm and flooding

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The tail end of a punishing winter storm system lashed California with thunderstorms and severe winds Monday after breaking rainfall records, washing out roads and whipping up enormous waves. At least four people died and several others were rescued from raging floodwaters during three storms in four days.

A thunderstorm brought ashore hail northwest of Los Angeles in Santa Barbara County, where a tornado warning was briefly issued. No tornadoes were reported but wind gusts topped 60 mph.

Flood watches and warnings remained in place for much of Southern California, a day after nearly 4 inches of rain fell south of Los Angeles, inundating roadways, toppling trees and raising concerns about damaging mudslides.

Commuters faced a messy drive to work, with rainfall expected to ease slightly but not taper off until Tuesday. Motorists were urged to use caution on mountain passes where heavy snow fell.

The National Weather Service had warned that the system could be among the strongest storms in years, and it delivered.

Long Beach Airport received 3.87 inches of rain by 5 p.m. Sunday, breaking the all-time daily record for rainfall. Los Angeles Airport got 2.78 inches, another single-day record.

California has been swamped during a wet winter that has brought plenty of rain and snow after years of drought.

A man’s body was found in a rain-swollen creek in rural northern San Diego County, which received more than 2.5 inches of rain. The water was moving so swiftly that crews were not immediately able to pull the victim to shore, according to the Union-Tribune newspaper.

Along coastal San Diego, two women were swept into the ocean by a large wave Saturday in Sunset Cliffs. Both were pulled from the water after a treacherous rescue operation, but one of the women, a 23-year-old, later died at a hospital, San Diego Fire-Rescue Capt. Joe Amador said.

Rescuers were set Monday to resume a search for an 18-year-old woman whose car plunged into a rushing creek after a collision Sunday southeast of San Francisco. Alameda County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly told KNTV recovery efforts were hampered by dangerous conditions.

Firefighters in San Bernardino County east of Los Angeles staged a dramatic swift-water rescue of a couple whose pickup truck was trapped in surging water west of the Cajon Pass.

Television footage showed rescue crews sending a raft, which was anchored to a firetruck, into rushing brown water so the trapped couple could climb aboard, one by one, from the car’s passenger window.

It was one of several similar rescues across the state, leading authorities to warn drivers to avoid roads with even minimal flooding.

Residents in rural Santa Cruz County south of San Francisco watched helplessly Sunday as the San Lorenzo River spilled over its banks for the second time this month, sending muddy water and debris into yards and homes. No injuries were reported.

Traffic was diverted off interstates 110 and 710 south of downtown Los Angeles because of water flowing across lanes.

Hundreds of homes remained evacuated near wildfire burn areas in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Orange counties. Potential debris flows could restrict access for emergency responders, officials said.

Farther north, officials warned of a “high avalanche danger” at all elevations of the Sierra Nevada mountains because of heavy snowfall that has closed several ski resorts.

The Sierra Avalanche Center advised Sunday against travel in the area, warning of intense snowfall rates and gale force winds.

In northwestern Mendocino County, a massive oak toppled onto an apartment in the city of Ukiah early Saturday, crushing the building and killing a woman as she lay in her bed, fire officials told the Press Democrat newspaper of Santa Rosa. The woman’s boyfriend and a 3-year-old boy escaped.

The San Francisco Bay Area was under a high surf advisory along the coast until early Tuesday with waves of up to 19 feet expected, National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Anderson said.

A historic WWI-era ship called the S.S. Palo Alto and docked near Santa Cruz was torn apart by massive waves Saturday.

The Bay Area was also under a flash flood watch that continues through Monday.

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