Biggest storm in five years thrashes Southern California

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LOS ANGELES, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Southern California cleaned up on Saturday after its biggest storm in years unleashed a wave of rain and snow that killed at least three people and triggered flooding, mudslides, high winds and power outages, officials said.

Vital highways and railways were shut down and sinkholes opened on main roads under the heaviest rainfall in the drought-stricken region in at least five years, according to the National Weather Service.

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Deadly storms hit California -- February 2017
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Deadly storms hit California -- February 2017
SUN VALLEY, CA - FEBRUARY 17: A firefighter carries a woman from her car after it was caught in street flooding as a powerful storm moves across Southern California on February 17, 2017 in Sun Valley, California. After years of severe drought, heavy winter rains have come to the state, and with them, the issuance of flash flood watches in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and the evacuation of hundreds of residents from Duarte, California for fear of flash flooding from areas denuded by a wildfire last year. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A damaged apartment building after a 75 foot tall tree crashed onto it as the strongest storm in six years slams Los Angeles, California, on February 17, 2017. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
A large 20-foot-deep (6-meter) sinkhole that swallowed two vehicles in North Laurel Canyon Blvd, in Los Angeles, is cordoned-off on February 18, 2017, after a powerful storm hit southern California. The storm blew in from the Pacific Ocean, hitting California on February 17 with high winds, heavy rain that downed power lines, leaving 60,000 people in the Los Angeles area without power, and prompting hundreds of flight delays and cancellations at airports. Four people have been reported killed due to the storm. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
SUN VALLEY, CA - FEBRUARY 17: The busy I5 freeway is shut down in both direction because of flooding as a powerful storm moves across Southern California on February 17, 2017 in Sun Valley, California. After years of severe drought, heavy winter rains have come to the state, and with them, the issuance of flash flood watches in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and the evacuation of hundreds of residents from Duarte, California for fear of flash flooding from area denuded by a wildfire last year. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Workers work after large 20-foot-deep (6-meter) sinkhole swallowed two vehicles in North Laurel Canyon Blvd, in Los Angeles, is cordoned-off on February 18, 2017, after a powerful storm hit southern California. The storm blew in from the Pacific Ocean, hitting California on February 17 with high winds, heavy rain that downed power lines, leaving 60,000 people in the Los Angeles area without power, and prompting hundreds of flight delays and cancellations at airports. Four people have been reported killed due to the storm. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
A large 20-foot-deep (6-meter) sinkhole that swallowed two vehicles in North Laurel Canyon Blvd, in Los Angeles, is cordoned-off on February 18, 2017, after a powerful storm hit southern California. The storm blew in from the Pacific Ocean, hitting California on February 17 with high winds, heavy rain that downed power lines, leaving 60,000 people in the Los Angeles area without power, and prompting hundreds of flight delays and cancellations at airports. Four people have been reported killed due to the storm. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
K-rails and sandbags are placed infront of homes as the strongest storm in six years slammed Southern California, in Duarte, California, on February 17, 2017 . / AFP / Frederic J. Brown (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
A pedestrian crosses a street as the strongest storm in six years slammed Southern California, in Los Angeles, California, on February 17, 2017 . / AFP / Frederic J. Brown (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
K-rails and sandbags are placed infront of homes as the strongest storm in six years slammed Southern California, in Duarte, California, on February 17, 2017 . / AFP / Frederic J. Brown (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
An officer in a police vehicle mans a roadblock, after a mandatory evacuation order was put in place for residents as the strongest storm in six years slammed Southern California, in Duarte, California, on February 17, 2017 . / AFP / Frederic J. Brown (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
SUN VALLEY, CA - FEBRUARY 17: A firefighter carries caution tape in a flooded street as a powerful storm moves across Southern California on February 17, 2017 in Sun Valley, California. After years of severe drought, heavy winter rains have come to the state, and with them, the issuance of flash flood watches in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and the evacuation of hundreds of residents from Duarte, California for fear of flash flooding from area denuded by a wildfire last year. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A resident evacuates from her apartment building after a 75 foot tall tree crashed onto it as the strongest storm in six years slams Los Angeles, California, on February 17, 2017. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
SUN VALLEY, CA - FEBRUARY 17: Firefighters prepare to transport a patient by ambulance at the scene of a car stuck in flooding as a powerful storm moves across Southern California on February 17, 2017 in Sun Valley, California. After years of severe drought, heavy winter rains have come to the state, and with them, the issuance of flash flood watches in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and the evacuation of hundreds of residents from Duarte, California for fear of flash flooding from area denuded by a wildfire last year. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A badly damaged apartment building after a 75 foot tall tree crashed onto it as the strongest storm in six years slams Los Angeles, California, on February 17, 2017. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

A man boards a bus on a flooded street as a powerful storm moves across Southern California on February 17, 2017 near Sun Valley, California. After years of severe drought, heavy winter rains have come to the state, and with them, the issuance of flash flood watches in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and the evacuation of hundreds of residents from Duarte, California for fear of flash flooding from areas denuded by a wildfire last year.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

A damaged apartment building after a 75 foot tall tree crashed onto it as the strongest storm in six years slams Los Angeles, California, on February 17, 2017.

(MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

K-rails and sandbags are placed in front of homes as the strongest storm in six years slammed Southern California, in Duarte, California, on February 17, 2017 .

(FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

People watch the large waves at El Porto beach as the strongest storm in six years slams Los Angeles, California, on February 17, 2017.

(MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

A pedestrian crosses a street as the strongest storm in six years slammed Southern California, in Los Angeles, California, on February 17, 2017 .

(FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

A driver moves along a flooded street as a powerful storm moves across Southern California on February 17, 2017 in Sun Valley, California. After years of severe drought, heavy winter rains have come to the state, and with them, the issuance of flash flood watches in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and the evacuation of hundreds of residents from Duarte, California for fear of flash flooding from areas denuded by a wildfire last year.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

An officer in a police vehicle mans a roadblock, after a mandatory evacuation order was put in place for residents as the strongest storm in six years slammed Southern California, in Duarte, California, on February 17, 2017 .

(FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman walks past a roadblock as the strongest storm in six years slammed Southern California, in Duarte, California, on February 17, 2017 .

(FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Motorists drive by waters as a powerful storm moves across Southern California on February 17, 2017 in Sun Valley, California. After years of severe drought, heavy winter rains have come to the state, and with them, the issuance of flash flood watches in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and the evacuation of hundreds of residents from Duarte, California for fear of flash flooding from areas denuded by a wildfire last year.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

A pedestrian crosses a street as the strongest storm in six years slammed Southern California, in Los Angeles, California, on February 17, 2017 .

(FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

A badly damaged apartment building after a 75 foot tall tree crashed onto it as the strongest storm in six years slams Los Angeles, California, on February 17, 2017.

(MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

SUN VALLEY, CA - FEBRUARY 17: Motorists ford a flooded street as a powerful storm moves across Southern California on February 17, 2017 in Sun Valley, California. After years of severe drought, heavy winter rains have come to the state, and with them, the issuance of flash flood watches in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties, and the evacuation of hundreds of residents from Duarte, California for fear of flash flooding from area denuded by a wildfire last year. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A badly damaged apartment building after a 75 foot tall tree crashed onto it as the strongest storm in six years slams Los Angeles, California, on February 17, 2017. / AFP / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

People with umbrellas walk across a street in Los Angeles, California, U.S. February 17, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

A woman holds her umbrella in the wind and rain in Los Angeles, February 17, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

People walk around a tree branch felled by wind and rain outside a restaurant in Los Angeles, February 17, 2017.

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

A woman walks through heavy rain in Los Angeles, February 17, 2017.

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

Cars drive through heavy rain in Los Angeles, February 17, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

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In one of wettest spots near Santa Barbara, over 10 inches (25 cm) of rain fell on Friday with several other stations in Southern California reporting at least 9 inches (23 cm), said meteorologist Patrick Burke of the Weather Prediction Center.

"It's been a very active winter and rainy season for the entire state of California," Burke said. "They needed that because of the drought. But sometimes droughts end with a flood and we've gone from one extreme to the other."

Parts of Southern California have been the slowest to exit the drought. But the state's reservoirs are 22 percent more full than the average, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Since Oct. 1, downtown Los Angeles has received more than 18 inches (46 cm) of rain, which is higher than the total annual average of just under 15 inches.

By Saturday afternoon, the storm had moved east into Nevada and Arizona. Northern California will be walloped with more rain and snow beginning on Sunday, with 4 to 8 inches (10 cm to 20 cm) of precipitation expected in the coastal mountains, Burke said.

Meanwhile, utility crews worked to restore electricity to tens of thousands of customers affected by power outages throughout the Los Angeles area on Saturday.

One man died on Friday after he was electrocuted by a downed wire, the Los Angeles Fire Department said. Another person was found dead in a submerged vehicle in Victorville, about 85 miles (137 km) northeast of Los Angeles, fire officials said.

And the body of a man was discovered on Saturday morning in a creek in Thousand Oaks, 40 miles (64 km) west of downtown Los Angeles, after he was swept away by floodwaters, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said.

Local television news also showed video footage of a San Bernardino County fire truck tumbling over the side of a freeway as the road gave out.

"All firefighters confirmed safe," the San Bernardino County Fire Department said on Twitter.

The storm also brought unusually strong winds. At the Port of Los Angeles, gusts as high as 75 miles per hour (121 km/h) were recorded on Friday.

Amtrak railroad service was suspended from Los Angeles north to San Luis Obispo on Saturday due to extreme weather conditions, according to the transportation service's website. (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Paul Simao and Mary Milliken)


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