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El Niño storm pummels California coast, floods streets

LOS ANGELES -- The last in a powerful string of El Niño-driven storms lashed coastal areas of California on Thursday, stirring waves that flooded some low-lying streets and crept toward ocean-front homes in Malibu.

The storm created waves that forecasters said could reach 16 feet while sending scattered thundershowers across inland areas.

It came a day after the week's strongest storm drenched the state and much of the Southwest, stopping cable cars in San Francisco, flooding roadways and stranding motorists across Los Angeles, and dumping heavy snow in northern Arizona.

Well over 2 inches of rain fell Wednesday on some mountain areas, including 3.5 inches in Angeles National Forest in Southern California. The storm dropped a foot of snow on ski resorts in San Bernardino County and around Lake Tahoe while causing dozens of crashes on slippery Nevada roads from Reno to Fallon.

Southern California is bracing for more scattered showers and lower temperatures Thursday, where record-breaking storms have created serious problems, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

Firefighters evacuated 10 mobiles homes from a park after heavy rain sent mud crushing in. They also scrambled to pump eight inches of water out of one Orange County driveway, while those in other flood-prone neighborhoods hope retaining walls hold up the hillsides behind their homes.

"We probably had 3,000 tons of mud yesterday. We got another 3,000, we're up to 6,000 tons," said resident Ed Heinlein of the city Asuza.

The Los Angeles County health officials are advising swimmers and surfers to stay out of the ocean for at least three days because of runoff from a series of El Niño storms. The ocean-water-quality advisory issued Thursday came as the latest storms moved east after pummeling the region with heavy rainfall. Bacteria levels can increase significantly during and after rainstorms as contaminants in the runoff enter the ocean via storm drains, creeks and rivers.

Los Angeles authorities spent days getting homeless people from low-lying areas along the Los Angeles River and other waterways prone to flooding. Shuttles were available to shelters that had room for as many as 6,000 beds, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

"We're not going to charge them with things," Garcetti said. "But we will use the force of law -- there is law on the books that they can't be there."

Motorists in mountain areas were warned that blizzard conditions with wind gusts reaching 60 mph were possible above 4,000 feet.

Tracy reports that's not stopping truckers from plowing through in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

"We're pretty much not happy campers doing this, but we've got to do it just to get the freight on the other side," truck driver Chris Ifo said.

Across the region, emergency crews are a lifeline. In Arizona, they pulled a man and his young grandson from their Hummer after they were swept up in raging floodwaters.

"Unbelievably thankful...I thank God a thousand times. It wouldn't be enough," said the child's mother, Samantha Young.

To the south, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for much of northern Arizona through midday Friday.

Flagstaff had 19 inches of snow on the ground; Grand Canyon National Park halted all shuttle bus service due to icy roads; and the Arizona desert saw its fourth straight day of rain.

Forecasters predicted significantly less rain for the rest of the week but warned that flash floods were still possible before skies finally cleared. In California, high surf warnings remained in effect for Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and San Diego counties.

The state was expected to begin drying out on Friday before another round of light rain moved in over the weekend.

Despite the problems, the wet weather in California was welcome news for the state suffering from a severe drought. Officials, however, warned residents against abandoning conservation efforts and reverting to wasteful water-use habits.

The current El Niño system -- a natural warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean that interacts with the atmosphere and changes weather worldwide -- has tied a system in 1997-1998 as the strongest on record.