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After The Storm, California 1, El Nino 0

When it came to El Nino's much-awaited first assault on Southern California, forewarned was forearmed.

Soon after the first indications last fall that California was destined to be a wet target of the weather-altering Pacific phenomenon, local emergency agencies got moving.

As satellite images showed bigger and bigger areas of the tropical Pacific turning nearly into bath water, they dispatched crews to whack the weeds lining flood control channels, staged emergency drills and warned the public to be prepared.

Based on Tuesday's first major test of readiness for El Nino-fueled winter storms, preparation paid off, authorities said Wednesday.

"Everything worked fine, exactly as it was supposed to," said James Noyes, chief deputy director of the Los Angeles County Flood Control District, which maintains an extensive system of dams, storm drains and channels.

"The only problems we had were minor street flooding ... and a few slides up in the mountains, particularly the Santa Monica Mountains, that closed some roadways," he said, "but it was very normal, very typical for the amount of rainfall we had."

That generally was about 3 or 4 inches, although close to 10 inches pelted parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Emergency officials took stock during a brief, sunny respite to a series of water assaults that could go on into April. Another storm was expected to hit the region by the weekend.

Noyes said the rain didn't overwhelm Southern California's flood control system. A review of key channels found that the rushing storm waters took up, at most, 40 percent of their capacity.

The concrete channels were cleared of vegetation last fall but "there wouldn't have been any problems, anyway," given the amount of rain that fell in Tuesday's storm, he said.

"This was a small event for us," said Constance Perett, manager of the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management. "Overall, the county has fared very well. I think some of it had to do with preparation and some of it had to do with the fact the storm was not as long-lasting as it could have been."

Only two people had to be rescued from floodwaters during the storm. City crews plucked a teen-ager from a flood channel and county rescuers helped a farmworker whose tractor was inundated when he tried to drive across swollen Castaic Creek.

"We did extremely well," said Capt. John Boyle, swiftwater coordinator for the county fire department.

Perett said she thinks that, after a flurry of warnings, "more people were smart about not going into rushing water."

The county had prepared for the El Nino season by updating its flood plan, drilling emergency workers and starting a public information campaign.

"You saw a lot more people had sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting," Perett said.

Fred Davis, manager of the Orchard Supply Hardware store in West Los Angeles, said roof patches, rain gear, lastic sheeting and sandbags were the hot sellers Tuesday and the store continued to do brisk business a day later.

Andy Rosenberger, director of the Office of Emergency Services for Santa Barbara County, said a levee break in the Santa Maria River, which sent water flowing onto 50 acres of farmland, was being repaired.

"I think everything we did paid off," Rosenberger said, citing extra training, exercises, and the clearing of willows in the Santa Ynez River.

"Given the volume of the rain we've had so far this year, I've seen less damage than we've had in the past, so I think people have listened, people have employed mitigation strategies and in many cases they've worked," Rosenberger said.

Jim Crum, emergency management chief for Army Corps of Engineers' Los Angeles District, which is on alert through at least this weekend, said the Sepulveda Dam performed as designed. Excess water flooded recreational land but never cascaded across the spillway, where specially designed gates rose to provide protection up to 710 feet 18 feet above the peak.

Jetties and breakwaters generally fared well, although some minor rock displacements at the Ventura Harbor breakwater and Port San Luis in San Luis Obispo need to be repaired after the storm season ends.

Written by Jane E. Allen Associated Press Writer
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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