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A powerful Pacific storm blew into Southern and Central California on Friday with wind-driven heavy rains, triggering rescues, calls for evacuations, toppling trees and power lines and disrupting travel and outdoor events. (Feb. 17)
AP

LOS ANGELES —  A Pacific storm system over southern California  that has generated high water, fallen trees, mudslides and sinkholes and is blamed for at least two deaths showed no signs of easing Saturday as forecasters said the flooding would persist through the weekend.

The National Weather Service said much of the state was under flood watches and flood warnings in effect from what it called a “very active, anomalously wet pattern.”

Unlike some of the past deluges that have lashed the drought-parched Golden State, the latest was accompanied by winds that whipped upward of 70 miles per hour in some areas.

Amtrak canceled its rail trips for a long stretch of the state’s southern and central coast, and more than 300 arriving and departing flights were delayed or canceled at Los Angeles International Airport.

In the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, the winds and rain were blamed for downing power lines along a busy stretch of Sepulveda Boulevard that fell on a car underneath. The driver was electrocuted, Los Angeles police said.

Later, only a few miles away in Studio City,  a sinkhole swallowed two cars. TV viewers watched as one of the two vehicles teetered on the edge of the chasm before plunging in. Firefighters rescued one person from the first car, and the driver got out of the second before it fell. No one was injured.

Interstate 5, the major north-south artery through California, was flooded near Los Angeles with water as deep as about five feet. Rush-hour traffic came to a crawl as California Highway Patrol officers guided motorists to off-ramps  But drivers of big-rig trucks, taking advantage of their high clearance, waded through water that almost rose to their hoods at times.

As the worst of the storm struck in the early afternoon, work crews — from fire departments, Caltrans and public works departments — were deployed throughout the region to respond to traffic accidents, downed trees and power lines and flooding as a result of the heavy rain.

In Victorville, a desert community east of Los Angeles, several vehicles were swept away by rushing water. One motorist was rescued from atop their vehicle. But San Bernardino County firefighters say one motorist died when the driver’s car was submerged.

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Billed as one of the most powerful storms to hit the Southland in years, residents were evacuated in some areas because of concerns about mudslides and heavy wind currents. In total, the storm had been predicted to dump four to six inches of rain in a region that had seen water restrictions after years of drought.

The rain could cause flooding and the Riverside County Fire Department cautioned all to avoid areas with high water and adhere to road closure signs. “Do not attempt to cross flooded roads or waterways on foot or in vehicles,” Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Chief John Hawkins said.

On Interstate 15, the freeway that connects Las Vegas to Southern California, a fire engine went off the side when the water undercut the roadway beneath it. The firefighters were able to escape unhurt.

Some of the hardest hit spots in Friday storms were the mountains and hills around Ojai and the Ventura River basin, swelling rivers and creeks that have had a string of dry years.

In Westlake Village, the water in the Las Virgenes reservoir could reach its spillway for the first time in more than 40 years. The reservoir has never spilled since it was first filled in 1974, but the system was designed to work this way and the dam is not at risk, officials said. The water is mostly imported from Northern California. But rainover the weekend could push the water level past capacity.

While southern and central California took the brunt of the storm, emergency crews kept a close eye on the Oroville Dam in northern California, which earlier this week appeared weakened by damage to its spillways. The fear had been that the dam could fail, inundating the town of Oroville.

A massive effort, however, had shored up the spillways with trucks and helicopters hauling in boulders. In addition, more water was drained from behind the dam, raising the hopes that the structure could handle additional rainfall without being topped.

Contributing: Christian Martinez of the Ventura County Star; The Associated Press