More storms ahead for California

January 27, 2008 6:49:06 AM PST
The latest in a series of storms that unleashed deadly avalanches, flooded streets and caused mud and rock slides barreled into Southern California on Saturday, threatening more problems for the rain-soaked region.

Heavy showers arrived late in the day after a blue-sky break in the storms allowed searchers to find the body of a third skier killed by a snow slide and rescue a missing snowboarder who survived a frigid night in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Christopher Allport, 60, of Santa Monica, was found Saturday morning, one of two people reported missing Friday after a trio of avalanches swept through off-trail canyons outside the Mountain High ski resort in Wrightwood.

A family member confirmed Allport had died but declined to give her name or comment further. Allport was a veteran character actor who had appeared on such TV shows as "ER," "Felicity," and "Matlock."

Allport wrote a story that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 2004 about the pleasures of backcountry skiing. "Any excursion into the mountains requires awareness," he wrote. "Have fun, but be careful."

The missing snowboarder was found Saturday after spending the night on the mountain. Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy Luis Castro said officials were confident no one else was missing and called off search efforts.

Oscar Gonzales Jr., 24, of Westminster, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that he got lost when he left the marked ski trails at the resort. "I made the wrong decision about going out of bounds," he said. "I hit a rock."

Gonzales said he was not hurt but he walked at least 13 miles overnight to keep warm, thinking of his 5½-year-old daughter, Jaden Ann.

"I didn't think about anything else," Gonzales said. "I couldn't stand leaving my daughter."

Gonzales told the newspaper he eventually found an old airplane fuselage and slept there until about 4:30 a.m., when he went to an open field and waited until he was rescued by a sheriff's helicopter.

The avalanches a day earlier killed Michael McKay, 23, an off-duty member of the resort's ski patrol, and Darin Bodie Coffey, 31, both of Wrightwood. Both were skiing out of the resort boundaries.

Eric Coffey told KNBC-TV that his brother was skiing with two friends. One friend was on top of the slope and "he yelled avalanche," Coffey said.

The other friend turned around.

"He got buried, and then he popped out," Coffey said. "My brother just got buried."

Avalanches are unusual in the San Gabriel Mountains, authorities said, but so was the 3 feet or more of new snow that hit the region in a matter of days this week.

"We depend on snow-making, and snow-making doesn't lead to avalanches," said Pete Olson, president of Mt. Baldy Ski Resorts. "It usually doesn't snow enough to make anything happen up here."

The tragedies didn't keep skiers and snowboarders from swarming to the resort 80 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. About 6,000 people jammed the slopes Saturday, officials said.

Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties braced for another bout of heavy rain as flash flood watches were in effect through Sunday because of thunderstorms, possible hail and wind gusts as high as 50 mph.

National Weather Service meteorologist Richard Thompson said up to 8 inches of rain could fall in the hills outside Los Angeles, whi "The heaviest rains will fall Sunday morning," Thompson said. "It will be pretty steady all through the day into the afternoon." Rain should taper off Sunday night, he said.

Several storms have been dumping rain onto Southern California since Monday. Some areas have received more moisture in that time than during the entire rainy season last year.

In Orange County, residents of five canyons that were denuded by wildfires last year were urged to follow a voluntary evacuation order because of the risk of mudslides.


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