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Hold On Tight, California

Californians are bracing for even more rain as they struggled to recover from storms that have left at least nine people dead, triggered mudslides and tornadoes, and washed away roads and runways.

Among the victims was a Nevada woman caught in an avalanche while cross-country skiing near Lake Tahoe, and a 16-year-old Orange County girl doing homework on a computer when a mudslide crashed through the wall of her home.

Forecasters said another strong system expected early Wednesday could bring severe winds and drop an additional inch or more of rain on Southern California.

Experts are saying the barrage of wild wet weather plaguing Southern California for months is really one big storm that has stayed in place over the region, and sporadically generates small stormlets, CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes reports.
Homeowners are perhaps the hardest hit by the relentless storms in Southern California. Now, living on the edge has a new meaning in the saturated areas of Los Angeles.

Patricia Prole was jolted awake at 1 a.m. after a mudslide gobbled up most of her backyard.

"It was gone," Prole told Hughes. "It was like standing on top of the Empire State Building."

In Ventura County, officials closed the small Santa Paula airport Tuesday after more than 155 feet of runway collapsed into the rushing Santa Clara River. Chunks of concrete crumbled into the water throughout the day.

"We've lost nearly the entire west third of the airport," said Rowena Mason, president of the Santa Paula Airport Association. "This is millions and millions of dollars worth of damage."

Despite brief glimpses of sun, a flash flood watch was in effect across much of Southern California on Tuesday. A tornado warning was also issued for coastal areas.

Authorities said dozens of homes were evacuated or red-tagged — marked as uninhabitable — because they threatened to collapse from sliding hillsides.

Mudslides forced Amtrak officials to suspend train service north of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara at least through Thursday.

The wild weather came from a series of storms that began battering the state on Thursday, dumping 8.15 inches of rain on downtown Los Angeles.

A total of 33.95 inches of rain had fallen in the city since July 1, when California begins its yearly rainfall measurements. The record, 38.18 inches, was set in 1883-1884.

Mayor James Hahn asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to urge President Bush to issue a federal disaster declaration for the city, which could open the way for federal assistance. The mayor said damage exceeded $10 million.

Northern California also was hit by severe thunderstorms and hail. Trees were uprooted and roofs and fences damaged by two small tornadoes near Sacramento.

Rain in Northern California tapered off Tuesday, with only isolated showers expected by Wednesday, said Bob Benjamin, a NWS forecaster.

Water rescues occurred across the state. Three people were treated for minor injuries after they swam to safety Tuesday when their SUV skidded on wet pavement in Anaheim and flipped into a river.

An avalanche killed one winter adventure-seeker over the weekend, and, according to CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker, avalanche deaths are on the rise.

He says life in the mountain west is growing deadlier as skiers, snow-boarders and snow-mobilers venture farther and farther off the beaten track. Seven people have died on Utah's back slopes, this year alone.

The death toll from the latest round of precipitation in California is eight, and could rise further with continued rain and wind Wednesday and Thursday.