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At Least 8 Deaths Blamed on Calif. Storms
Mon Jan 10, 2:33 AM ET U.S. National - AP
By MARTIN GRIFFITH, Associated Press Writer
RENO, Nev. - Areas of the Sierra Nevada, famous for paralyzing
amounts of snowfall, have been hit with a dumping like they haven't
seen in generations, with steep drifts stranding an Amtrak train,
knocking out the Reno airport and shutting down major highways
across the mountains.
The string of moisture-laden storms has dropped up to 19 feet of
snow at elevations above 7,000 feet since Dec. 28 and 6 1/2 feet at
lower elevations in the Reno area. Meteorologists said it was the
most snow the Reno-Lake Tahoe area has seen since 1916.
"I've lived here for almost 40 years and I've never seen anything
like it," Peter Walenta, 69, said Sunday from his home in Stateline,
on the southern end of Lake Tahoe. "This baby just seems to be
stretching on forever. Right now I'm looking out the window and it's
Storms also have caused flooding in Southern California and Arizona,
deadly avalanches in Utah and ice damage and flooding in the Ohio
The weather was blamed for at least eight weekend deaths in Southern
California, including a homeless man killed Sunday by a landslide.
Along the storms' eastward track, avalanches killed two people
Saturday in Utah, authorities said.
An avalanche Sunday afternoon killed a 13-year-old boy after
knocking him from a ski lift at the Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard
Resort, 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas. No other injuries have been
A lull in the storm allowed the reopening Sunday of Interstate 80
over Donner Summit and U.S. 50 over Echo Summit after the highways
were closed off and on for more than a day. The highways connect
Sacramento, Calif., to Reno.
"The snowbanks along Interstate 80 are about 8 to 10 feet high. It's
like you're going through a maze," said Jane Dulaney, spokeswoman
for the Rainbow Lodge west of Donner Summit.
About 25 motorists were rescued by National Guard members in Humvees
after they become stranded overnight on U.S. Highway 395 about 20
miles south of Reno, Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Jeff Bowers said.
Motorists had to wait up to six hours until rescuers could reach
them after daylight Sunday.
"That would have been as scary as it gets to be out there alone in
those conditions," Bowers said.
The California Highway Patrol reported 720 crashes Sunday night,
more than three times the number of accidents during the previous
Sunday when roads were dry.
More than 220 Amtrak passengers were back in Sacramento on Sunday
after spending the night stuck in their train in deep snow west of
Donner Summit, spokesman Marc Magliari said.
One car of the California Zephyr, eastbound from Oakland, Calif., to
Chicago, derailed in the snow Saturday evening. No one was hurt.
Amtrak officials moved the passengers to other cars and the train
reversed course and returned to Sacramento about 6 a.m.
Because of the derailment, a westbound Zephyr had to stop in Reno
and its roughly 140 passengers completed their trip to California by
bus. Service from several stations in Ventura, as well as trains
from Los Angeles to Burbank, were canceled for Monday.
Reno-Tahoe International Airport was closed for 12 hours overnight
for the second time in a week, and only the third time in 40 years,
because plows could not keep up with the heavy snowfall, spokeswoman
Trish Tucker said.
"It's nice to know that there are places with more snow than the
Dakotas," Wendy Wollmuth said while waiting for a flight to her home
in Moffit, N.D. "We're a bit spooked about being here with all this
Church services and weekend high school sporting events in the Reno
area were canceled. Reservations at the Arch of Reno wedding chapel
were down 50 percent from a normal weekend, spokeswoman Kathy Allen
When the latest storm hit, the Reno region had still been digging
out from a Dec. 30 storm that dumped as much as 4 feet of snow on
"You'd have to go back to 1916 to top this sequence of storms,"
National Weather Service (news - web sites) forecaster Tom Cylke
said Sunday of the snow accumulation in Reno.
Flash flood warnings were posted throughout Southern California.
Residents of a mobile home park in Santa Clarita, northwest of Los
Angeles, were evacuated Sunday after 5 feet of water spilled in from
"An eight-foot masonry wall that was protecting the structures gave
way and water is rushing into all the houses," said Inspector John
Mancha. Authorities weren't immediately sure how many people were
A two-story home collapsed in the Studio City area above the San
Fernando Valley. A man and his two children were pulled from the
rubble with minor injuries.
Elsewhere, flooding along the Ohio River had chased hundreds of
Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky residents from their homes.
Meteorologists predicted the river would reach its highest level in
eight years at Louisville, Ky., this week at about 5 feet above
flood stage. Cincinnati was already more than 2 feet above its 52-
foot flood stage Sunday, with forecasters expecting a crest at 57.5
Ohio Gov. Bob Taft declared a state of emergency in 28 of Ohio's 88
counties this weekend, increasing to 49 the number of counties
eligible for state assistance cleaning up from the storms, Ohio
Emergency Management Agency spokesman Mark Patchen said Sunday. Ohio
authorities believe carbon monoxide poisoning killed five people
using generators for electricity since Friday.
Indiana officials said some of the worst flooding since 1937 had
isolated pockets across the southern part of the state, forcing
hundreds of people from their homes.
The storm that fed the flooding also knocked out power last week in
parts of western and northern Ohio. Utilities said Sunday that about
66,000 customers remained without electricity, down from a peak of
250,000. More than 37,000 customers were still blacked out Sunday in
Pennsylvania, and 56,500 were without power in Indiana.