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Mudslides bring down Los Angeles-area hillsides

LOS ANGELES - Thunderous mudslides swept away cars and pushed furniture out of homes and into the streets in the foothills north of Los Angeles yesterday as intense winter rain poured down mountains denuded by a summer wildfire.

No injuries were reported but residents and emergency responders were caught off guard by the unexpected ferocity of the storm, which damaged more than 40 homes and dozens of vehicles.

At least 500 homes were ordered evacuated after heavy rains overflowed debris basins, carried away cement barricades and swept cars into storm drains.

Los Angeles County Fire Insp. Matt Levesque said forecasters and county and city officials did not anticipate the magnitude of the slow-moving storm. "If we had known there would have been this much rain we would have evacuated" people sooner, he said.

At least a foot of debris was reported in some houses. Family photographs, furniture and other personal items were spotted among the rocks and debris that flowed into yards and streets.

The rain had tapered off by midmorning, but forecasters said another storm was expected later Saturday.

The evacuations were ordered in foothill areas of La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta and some parts of Acton.

Leslie Fernandes, 49, said he awoke in his La Canada Flintridge home just before 5 a.m. to a thunderous rain. "I heard a roar and a rumble and I went to look outside and there were cars swept down the street," Fernandes said.

A retaining wall on his property burst and 2 feet of mud was piled on his driveway, topped with a layer of ash from last summer's wildfires.

Down the street, Steve Brown, 52, said he helped a neighbor escape her mud-filled home after she was trapped upstairs.

"There were logs floating in her living room," Brown said.

Crews used bulldozers and other heavy equipment to clear masses of mud and rocks that blocked suburban streets and intersections.

At least 30 of the damaged homes were on Ocean View Boulevard in Pickens Canyon. Five homes were tagged with a red notice warning they were unsafe to enter. At one, mud was piled up to the handle on the front door and the yard was washed away, replaced with muck, rocks and a tangle of tree roots. Two white Toyotas were smashed up against the front of the house.

A heavy downpour at sunrise followed a steady overnight rain of nearly 2 inches in a mountainous 250-square-mile scarred by wildfires last summer.

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