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Calif. Storm Eases without Major Havoc

Updated at 3:25 p.m. EDT.

A powerful fall storm packing strong winds and rain eased Wednesday without causing the widespread mudslides and debris flows that California residents had feared.

The storm delivered its biggest punch to northern and central areas, knocking out power to nearly 700,000 utility customers from Bakersfield in the southern San Joaquin Valley to Eureka on the north coast.

A mandatory evacuation order remained in effect for residents of about 40 homes in central coast mountains near Watsonville, east of Monterey Bay, due to mudslides, said Chris Hirsch, a spokeswoman for Santa Cruz County emergency services. A dozen other homes were isolated because fallen trees and debris blocked roads.

"We can't get in, they can't get out," Hirsch said.

The storm lost momentum by the time it reached Southern California, where up to 5 inches of rain had been forecast.

The average rainfall in Los Angeles is just half an inch for the entire month of October, reports CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy.

"This strong system sort of just rained itself out over Central California and as it moved down lower it had already started to exhaust itself slightly," said Jamie Stern, a National Weather Service spokeswoman. "As it moved on downward we didn't get the full effect of what the storm originally was."

Hillsides made bare from summer fires had raised the fear of mudslides and debris flow.

Mudslides can occur weeks or even months after heavy rains so this may be just the beginning of a very treacherous rainy season, reports CBS "Early Show" weather anchor Dave Price.

Many parts of the state remained under flash flood watches, meaning conditions were favorable for flooding.

Two inches of rain had fallen by midmorning in La Canada Flintridge, one of a string of Los Angeles suburbs on the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, where the Station Fire burned 250 square miles this summer.

Residents began breathing easier as drizzle fell on the foothill suburbs, but it continued to rain harder at higher elevations.

"From our standpoint, we're in pretty good shape, unless we have a huge increase in rain," said retired geologist Jim Conel outside his home near a damp hillside blackened by the flames. "Thank the Lord, or whoever: it's OK."

"The funny thing is we just had a block party on Saturday to celebrate together the fact that we survived the fire," Dorothy Kruegermann, 44, of La Crescenta said Tuesday night.

Crews continued to put concrete barriers and sandbags in place in communities to contain potential debris flows and direct them away from properties.

Numerous crashes and a snarled commute were the storm's greatest impacts on the Los Angeles region.

Northwest of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara County resident Cherie Topper could see little flow in a creek running through her San Roque Canyon property within the steep Santa Ynez Mountains, close to where a wildfire early this year burned thousands of acres below.

"It's a warm, very gentle rain," she said. "There doesn't appear to be much in the way of drainage."

About 76,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers were without power Wednesday, down from 686,000.

The storm damaged 140 poles and more than 102 miles of power lines, PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said.

"This storm was significant, and it really packed a wallop," Molica said.

Residents in rural areas may not have their power restored for a few more days, Molica said.

While the storm brought heavy rainfall to some parts of the state, it did little to boost California's reservoirs in the Northern Sierra, which are the starting point for state and federal water supplies. That's because snow fell higher than 9,000 feet and above the snowpack that feeds the state and federal reservoirs, said Elissa Lynn, a meteorologist at the Department of Water Resources.

"The storms were big deals from a local point, but from a statewide water perspective, it hasn't yet improved things greatly," Lynn said.

Three years of below-normal rainfall and snowfall have left California's major reservoirs with less water than normal. Lake Oroville is about 37 percent full, which is about 60 percent of normal for this time of year.