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Another Wave of Rain in California

Another wave of street-flooding rain washed across sodden Southern California today and a mudslide apparently severed a natural gas pipeline in a spectacular burst of flame.

The bulk of today's latest storm front enhanced by El Nino passed through during the morning, filling streets and piling snow on the mountains before being replaced by areas of bright sunshine.

A natural gas pipeline erupted in a fireball at dawn on a coastal Ventura County hillside above U.S. 101, apparently after it was broken by a slide, said county fire spokesman Joe Luna.

"The hillsides are so saturated," Luna said.

The gas ignited in 200-foot-tall flames that were visible for miles. The blaze was extinguished within an hour and no one was injured.

Flooding forced Los Angeles police to close streets around the Sepulveda Basin in the San Fernando Valley early today, and crews had to pump standing water off one of the city's freeways. Minor flooding was reported in Orange County.

Mostly showers were scattered over the rain-weary northern end of the state, but more storms driven by energy from El Nino were forecast beginning Wednesday night.

Until that rain arrives, a few residents evacuated from 140 homes threatened by mudslides in Rio Nido, north of San Francisco, were to be allowed back in today to retrieve valuables. Some others were allowed in briefly on Monday.

In Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, a landslide created a dam that backed up a seven-acre lake. Crews rushed to pump water from the lake, dig a spillway and reinforce the earthen dam in Hall Canyon.

If the dam collapsed, water and mud could surge toward an area of 50 to 75 homes, and residents were prepared to evacuate if necessary.

"At this point we consider that to be low risk," said Laura Hernandez, assistant director of the Ventura County Office of Emergency Services.

Bulldozer crews along scenic Highway 1 in Santa Monica worked through the night to reinforce the road with boulders. A heavy surf advisory was in effect for more than 300 miles of coast, from San Luis Obispo County to the Mexico border, with waves as high as 18 feet expected.

"I really don't even want to cope with it any more," said one resident, Gray Jones. "I'm tired of putting things behind my door where the water starts flooding in, where it overpowers the drains."

The seemingly endless stretch of storms have caused an estimated $275 million to $300 million damage in 22 of the 31 counties declared states of emergency by the governor. At least 10 deaths are blamed on the storms.

In addition to California, other states have been hit by El Nino-related storm systems. One such system blew through Texas, damaging areas where tornadoes and heavy flooding struck the Gulf Coast.

Damage to arms and ranches alone has reached nearly $50 million, the California Farm Bureau Federation said Monday. Vegetable crops along the Southern California coast and grain and hay crops in the Sacramento Valley have been hit the hardest.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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