Storms pound coasts: At least 24 dead in California, Florida

By Larry Gerber Associated Press Published:

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. _ Mud oozed down the canyons of this seaside enclave like lumpy chocolate pudding, smashing through homes and sweeping away residents as they scrambled to stay above the hip-high torrent.

"It was a washing machine as far as I knew. I was just rocking and rolling, and just desperately crawling my way to the top of wherever I was," Ann Quilter said.

Quilter and others escaped with their lives as the wall of mud came thundering toward their Laguna Canyon Road homes early Tuesday. But as the sun rose, rescuers found the body of Glenn Flook, 25, in the mud. A search for more victims was to resume today.

At least nine people were killed as the season's most powerful El Nino storm struck the waterlogged West Coast, killing people from Tijuana, Mexico, to northeastern California. It moved east Tuesday after leaving hundreds homeless, severing roads and rail lines and closing 35 miles of pristine Los Angeles County shoreline.

On the other coast, in Kissimmee, Fla., Rescuers with dogs searched the piney woods near a tornado-devastated campground Tuesday for possible victims of a swarm of tornadoes that strafed central Florida.

The death toll was 39.

Three people were missing late Tuesday, one from the Ponderosa Park Campground. Three others listed as missing from the campground were found alive at a hospital.

As the region continues to recover from the devastating tornadoes, President Clinton is paying a visit to assess the damage for himself and comfort storm victims.

Clinton will fly over Osceola County by helicopter today to see the destruction.

The president added the Florida stop to a previously scheduled trip to California for Democratic fund-raising events in the evening. He is to address a technology conference on Thursday and meet with California disaster relief officials.

The storm in California was apparently the last in a series of rigorous weather systems that have repeatedly punished the state since late January, causing more than $475 million in damage and prompting 36 of 58 counties to declare states of emergency.

As Los Angeles recorded 13.7 inches of rain for the month _ breaking a 114-year record _ a flooded Los Angeles County sewer system sent millions of gallons of untreated sewage spilling into Santa Monica Bay. Beaches from Palos Verdes to Malibu were closed.

Meanwhile, a rescue effort ended sadly early Tuesday when the bodies of two California Highway Patrol officers were found lodged inside their patrol car, turned upside down in a rain-swollen river in Santa Maria, about 200 miles north of Los Angeles.

Officers Rick Stovall and Britt Irvine were on their way to help a disabled motorist on fog-shrouded Highway 166 when they were swept away by a torrent that had gouged 100 yards out of the two-lane rural highway.

"They were out doing what they are supposed to do. They were out helping the public," said patrol Lt. Paul Matthies.

Three other vehicles, including a jackknifed big rig, were stuck in the mud. Two drivers were rescued by helicopter; crews did not immediately find a third motorist in a submerged pickup.

Other damage from the storm included an underground drain that burst and carved a sinkhole 65 feet deep, 25 feet wide and 700 feet long at an interstate on-ramp in San Diego. Parts of six beachfront homes in Del Mar were slowly toppling into the sea.

In Northern California, waves chewed into a cliff beneath eight precariously perched homes in Pacifica, south of San Francisco, and residents remained barred from 500 homes around the rising Clear Lake north of Santa Rosa.

Two tornadoes _ almost unheard-of in Southern California _ touched down early Tuesday, ripping up storage sheds and knocking down trees in Huntington Beach and Long Beach. No injuries were reported.

In the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains, east of Los Angeles, search crews were expected to look for two men aboard a Beechcraft Bonanza that disappeared Monday. Wreckage believed to be that of the plane was spotted at 11,100 feet Tuesday.

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