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Evacuations begin in rain-weary California

LOS ANGELES — If six days of pounding rain wasn't enough to dampen holiday spirits, a seventh could prove to be downright dangerous.

Forecasters expected heavy rains across California going into today, and authorities began evacuations late Tuesday as concern grew about potential mudslides in the wildfire-scarred foothills across the southern part of the state.

Officials ordered evacuation of 232 homes in La Canada Flintridge and La Crescenta, foothill suburbs of Los Angeles, because of forecasts of more heavy rains on already saturated mountainsides.

San Diego police also ordered evacuations of about a dozen homes in the city's Carmel Valley area and a commuter rail station in Sorrento Valley because of heavy rains, but no damage was reported, police spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown said.

Other inconveniences have so far been relatively minor: Rescuers had to pluck some stranded motorists from rain-swollen creeks. Shoppers dodged puddles while buying last-minute Christmas gifts. Disney resorts canceled a plan to shower visitors with artificial snow.

"We'll keep our fingers crossed, but the more rain that comes, the possibility of mudslides is definitely real," said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Orange County sheriff's office, which has rescued nine people from the flooding in the past 24 hours.

"We've been lucky so far, but I'm not sure how much longer the luck will hold out," he said.

For all the perils of the torrential rains, there was a silver lining: The water is expected to help ease the effects of years of drought.

The immediate concern, however, was the impact of the expected downpours, particularly in areas where wildfires stripped hillsides of the vegetation that keeps soil in place and burned up dead leaves and other debris that act like a sponge.

Downtown Los Angeles received one-third of its annual average rainfall in less than a week. As of midmorning Tuesday, the rain gauge at the University of Southern California campus recorded 5.77 inches. Forecasters said another 2 inches was expected there through today.

The storm was expected to drop a total of 10 1/2 to 15 1/2 feet of snow at Mammoth Mountain, about five hours northeast of Los Angeles in the Eastern Sierras, capping off what's already made record books as the most December snow ever at the ski resort.

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