Updated Sat. Jan. 5 2008 7:52 AM ET
The Associated Press
"We don't take these evacuation orders lightly. We do everything we can to make sure they're necessary," Blawn said. "The thing with debris flows, mudslides and flash floods is that you can't see them coming."
A voluntary evacuation was in effect at an apartment complex northwest of downtown Los Angeles because of flooding and a small mudslide.
Flash flood warnings were issued late Friday for most of Los Angeles County and all of southeastern Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Riverside and San Bernardino counties deployed swift-water rescue teams in case torrential rains brought flash floods and mudslides.
Homeowners in Southern California stacked sandbags and hay bales around their homes while residents in the low-lying areas of the Central Valley piled sandbags to barricade their homes from streams and creeks that forecasters warned might swell.
The state opened its emergency operations center Friday morning to coordinate storm response, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he had spoken with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff by phone.
The National Guard said it had personnel on standby, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection dispatched inmate crews in Northern California's Butte, Glenn and Placer counties to clear debris from roadways, spokesman Daniel Berlant said.
The agency also deployed swift-water rescue teams in Butte, Placer and Riverside counties to handle torrential rains that might bring flash floods and mudslides.
In the Sierra National Forest, a frantic daylong search for three missing members of a Clovis family ended just after nightfall when rescuers found them in good condition with three other hikers who had apparently gotten trapped in the woods after the storm hit.
Forecasters expected the storm to dump as much as 10 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada, where a blizzard warning was downgraded Friday evening to a winter storm warning.
Lake Tahoe was forecast to get between 1 to 2 feet of snow, and the Sierra foothills could get some light accumulation when a third, colder storm moves into the region Saturday.
"It's going to be a mess for travelers," said Chris Smallcomb, a weather service meteorologist. "We expect the road conditions will be hazardous if not impossible."
Friday evening, the California Department of Transportation closed Interstate 80 across the Sierra, the main east-west link between Northern California and Nevada.
The Red Cross set up a 200-bed shelter in Truckee for stranded motorists, as well as a shelter in Butte County.
Air travelers saw their flight plans put on hold when airlines delayed or canceled flights in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.
About 600,000 people from the Bay Area to the Central Valley were in the dark early Saturday, down from about 1.5 million the day before. Crews worked to restore power, but it could be days before all the lights are on, Pacific Gas & Electric officials said.
Howling winds, pelting rain and heavy snow took its heaviest toll Friday on Northern California, where trucks flipped on interstates.
The huge storm also toppled trees and cut power to thousands of residents in Washington and Oregon.
"A huge tree, over 100 years old, just fell across the house. It just wrecked the whole thing," said Faye Reed, whose daughter Teenia owns the damaged home north of Sacramento. "They won't be able to live in it. The whole ceiling fell in, and now it's raining inside."
INTERNATIONALLY - IAEM EUROPE REPORTS
MEXICO: Authorities in Tijuana are preparing for the heavy rains. Emergency officials are working to spread word about the storm to people in Tijuana's far flung neighborhoods. KPBS Reporter Amy Isackson has the story. Tijuana's director of Civil Protection, Alberto Escobedo, says weather officials predict the same amount of rain as 1993 when storms killed 28 people in Tijuana and left about 5,000 homeless. He says then the city's lack of infrastructure combined with four inches of rain in just six hours spelled disaster. Escobedo says a similar prediction for heavy rain this weekend has them preparing for the worst. Escobedo says shelters in Tijuana and Rosarito are ready to take in 2000 people and more shelters are open in neighborhoods throughout the region. Tijuana still suffers from overcrowded neighborhoods and drainage problems that contributed to massive flooding in 1993. Many newcomers live in makeshift homes on hillsides. Escobedo says that makes them vulnerable and many don't realize what heavy rain can do.
AUSTRALIA: New South Wales - Parts of the NSW North Coast have been declared natural disaster areas after heavy rain and severe flooding. NSW Emergency Services Minister Nathan Rees has officially declared the Tweed and Kyogle areas natural disaster zones after visiting the region today. A spokesman for the minister says they're still considering natural disaster declarations for the Richmond valley and Lismore depending on whether more rain falls tonight. Overnight some 500 people were evacuated from areas around Kyogle and South Murwillumbah where more than 300mm of rain fell in just three hours.
AUSTRALIA: Queensland - The Queensland State Emergency Service says flash floods in the Gold Coast Hinterland have caught many people by surprise. More than 350 millimetres of rain fell in some areas overnight, causing flash flooding and raising floodwaters in the Logan and Albert Rivers. The Logan River is expected to flood later today. SES spokesman Andy Christie says volunteers have been involved in 20 rescues overnight.
AFRICA: Deadly floods hit southern Africa
Heavy rain is expected to continue until February. Severe flooding in Zimbabwe and Zambia has killed at least 21 people and left thousands homeless in the past month, and threatens to affect farming. In Mozambique, the authorities have declared a red alert, with rivers rising above "critical" levels. The rains, which began in early December, have washed away homes and livestock throughout the area.
FROM PUERTO RICO
Coast Guard rescues passengers of Puerto Rican ship
KEY WEST, Fla. (WSVN) -- The Coast Guard rescued six people from a foreign boat stranded at sea.
Authorities said crews navigated through rough waves and strong winds before reaching the 127-foot Puerto Rican-based passenger ship, which experienced engine failure 33 miles south of Big Pine Key.
Officials transferred the passengers to a Coast Guard cutter before towing their ship to Key West.MARITIME NOTE
Bulgarian cargo ship sinks in Azov Sea
Russian and Bulgarian rescuers in ships and helicopters searched the area Friday for the three sailors who were still unaccounted for, the Bulgarian Sofia News Agency reported. One sailor was rescued.
The Bulgarian Vanessa ship, with a crew of 11 -- 10 Bulgarians and one Ukrainian -- sank Thursday morning at the Russian-Ukrainian maritime border in the Kerch Strait, Serbia's radio-television RTS reported quoting Russian officials.
The Vanessa was carrying Russian iron to the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas.
The storm that sank the Vanessa affected land travel, too. Highways leading from central Bulgaria to the Black Sea coast were blocked by snowdrifts, leaving hundreds of vehicles stranded. The two major Black Sea ports, Varna and Burgas, were closed to sea traffic.
More than 300 villages and towns across Bulgaria were left without electricity and more than 30 villages had no tap water.
OTHER MARITIME STORM RELATED CASUALTIES
42-ft sailboat Red Cloud, with two men, a woman and a dog, was overwhelmed by high winds and 20-ft seas nearly 200 miles offshore Galveston, Texas on Jan. 1. The vessel reported it was taking on water and that its cabin roof was being ripped apart. A rescue helicopter made it to to the vessel for rescue in about 50 minutes. From our Sr. Correspondent Tim Schwabedissen (Thurs. Jan 3 2008).
554-ft Thai-flagged freighter M/V Mathawee Naree (ex Ocean Camellia, Joy Victory), Vancouver to Japan with 28,000 tons copper concentrate and 24 aboard, lost power and became disabled 180 nautical miles northwest of Attu on Dec. 31 The vessel is adrift in heavy seas the Bering Sea. USCG Jarvis dispatched to the scene and a USCG C-130 was conducting aerial surveillance. From our Sr. Correspondent Tim Schwabedissen (Thurs. Jan 3 2008).
Unidentified North Korean fishing vessel, with 3 crew, disabled and required urgent assistance in the Japan Sea on Jan. 2. Russian-flagged M/V Kapitan Kiriy (IMO 7384261) assisted the vessel and took the crew aboard, though two crew had died of hypothermia. From our Moscow Correspondent Mike Voitenko (Thurs. Jan 3 2008)