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Cold Winds Putting Big Chill On The Golden State

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(Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) —  Cold blasts of wind hit California on Wednesday in the trail of a storm that dumped more rain and snow on the soggy state but failed to trigger significant new mudflows.

One person was killed by a falling tree and a snowboarder was missing, power outages were scattered around the state and some roads and highways were closed, but the region escaped widespread problems in the two-day round of foul weather.

Chilly wind gusts of more than 40 mph hit northern Los Angeles County as the low pressure system that brought the storm moved east, and forecasters warned that the night would allow even colder air and higher winds that could down power lines and topple trees rooted in saturated soil.

An expected drop of snow levels to low elevations also posed a threat to highway travel over mountain passes.

In San Diego, the U.S. Coast Guard and others searched in strong winds and high seas for a 20-foot pleasure boat reported to be in distress.

The Coast Guard received a report at about 5 p.m. of a boat taking on water about a mile north of Point Loma and boats and helicopters were searching the waters where a high surf advisory and gale warning were in effect.

Meanwhile, communities east and south of Los Angeles that were hit hard by runoff in a dayslong series of storms last week were able to focus on cleaning up without additional new damage.

Rain was lighter than expected in Highland in San Bernardino County, where 50 homes remain evacuated after being swamped by a pre-Christmas mudflow and more than 100,000 sandbags had been used to build walls to keep more muck out of the community.

“We haven’t had any hard downpours,” said Jodi Miller, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

The outcome was also positive in Laguna Beach, the scenic Orange County enclave that sustained $10 million in damage when storm runoff inundated part of its downtown last week.

“All the drains are working, no flooding, no new mudslides,” said police Lt. Jason Kravetz. “We’ll go back to clean up.”

Also Wednesday, Acting Gov. Abel Maldonado sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for a major disaster declaration for the state. Maldonado said the damage wrought by 10 days of bruising storms were too much for state and local governments to handle.

The rain and heavy wind that swept through Northern California on Tuesday were blamed for the death of a woman camping with her 7-year-old granddaughter at a wildlife preserve in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco.

A 100-foot oak tree came down on Gayle Falgoust’s tent at the Safari West Wildlife Preserve near Santa Rosa around 9 p.m. Tuesday, authorities and preserve officials said.

“It was so stormy and windy. It was just a very cruel winter day,” said Aphrodite Caserta, spokeswoman for Safari West.

The granddaughter, who was also in the tent at the time, was not hurt.

The girl’s father and his son were in a neighboring tent when they heard the tree come down and screams, sheriff’s Capt. Matt McCaffrey told KGO-TV. They used scissors to cut through the canvas and pull the 7-year-old out.

In the snow-laden Sierra Nevada, Placer County search teams combed the Alpine Meadows Ski Resort at Lake Tahoe for Shawnte Marie Willis, who apparently became separated from friends while snowboarding Tuesday afternoon. Willis, 25, was last seen snowboarding through ski boundary signs near the top of an advanced slope, resort spokeswoman Rachel Woods told the Sacramento Bee.

The Nevada side of the Sierra saw wind gusts up to 100 mph, more than a foot of new snow and fears of avalanches on Wednesday.

The wind and snow causing power outages at Tahoe, flight delays in Reno and travel troubles on most area highways. The California Highway Patrol held traffic periodically along U.S. Highway 50 southwest of Tahoe due to avalanche concerns.

More than 10,000 homes and businesses were without electricity around Lake Tahoe, according to NV Energy.

About 152,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers across Northern California lost power during Tuesday night’s storm, which knocked out electricity to the most homes and businesses along the northern coast around Humboldt County, said utility spokesman Joe Molica.

Crews were working to restore power to the 6,500 customers still without power around midday Wednesday, he said.

Southern California Edison had 5,050 customers without power Wednesday and many, but not all, outages were storm-related, said spokesman Paul Klein.

Among road problems left by the storm, Highway 1 was closed at points along the coast due to flooding or rock slides.

The same storm system prompted a blizzard warning through Thursday night for mountainous areas of eastern Arizona, while rain drenched the lower desert Wednesday, causing dozens of drivers to slide off slippery highways.

 (© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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