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Storm sweeps through California; Scouts rescued by helicopter

Sunday, March 16, 2003

LOS ANGELES -- A stubborn Alaskan winter storm unleashed heavy rain and winds Saturday throughout California, knocking out power, setting rainfall records and piling up traffic accidents statewide.

A Boy Scout troop was rescued by helicopter from a sandbar in the middle of a creek in the Los Padres National Forest.

The three scout masters and nine boys were stranded when heavy rain caused the creek to swell and nearly engulf them.

It took a sheriff's helicopter four trips to rescue the troop and pick up their gear. The scouts were wet and cold but otherwise unharmed, according to paramedics.

The storm dumped 3 inches of rain on coastal and valley areas, and 5 to 6 inches in the foothills and mountains. More than 3.3 inches of rain was recorded by late afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, breaking a 1952 record.

In San Francisco, winds reached 62 mph on the Golden Gate Bridge, forecasters said.

The Grapevine section along Interstate 5 opened in the afternoon, hours after a truck overturned and several other accidents were reported, causing delays and at least one lane closure.

A restaurant and movie theater flooded in the Westwood area of Los Angeles, and shop owners along trendy Melrose Avenue used sand bags to keep water out of their boutiques. Power outages were reported in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley and in Thousand Oaks in Ventura County.

In Los Angeles County, more than 800 accidents were reported between 4 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., said Highway Patrol spokesman Brian Joy. Most were spinouts and fender-benders. No fatalities were reported, he said.

In many parts of Southern California, where a persistent drought has lingered over the past four years, the rain was welcome.

"It's been raining off and on all day that's been a blessing for the cactus and the wildflowers," said Jerri Hagman, owner of the Homestead Inn and Spa near Joshua Tree National Park.


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