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Freakish storm hits Southern California

Thursday, November 13, 2003 Posted: 7:00 AM EST (1200 GMT)

Lightning strikes the north as seen from Signal Hill Park in the city of Signal Hill, California, Wednesday night.

Mother Nature unleashed a vicious storm that pelted Los Angeles with hail, lightning and heavy rains. KTTV's Ed Laskos reports (November 13)

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- A freak storm pummeled parts of Southern California with up to five inches of rain and hail, forcing motorists to abandon swamped cars at the height of rush hour and leaving thousands of residents without power.

Lightning lit up the region as fast-flowing water turned some streets to rivers Wednesday night. Water swept trash and other debris to the doorsteps of homes and stores.

"It was just unbelievable," said National Weather Service meteorologist Curt Kaplan. He said five inches of rain was recorded in just two hours in southern Los Angeles, nearing the previous record for the area of 5.9 inches -- "but that was in an entire day." Skies mostly cleared overnight.

The sudden downpour surprised commuters, and firefighters reported rescuing more than 100 motorists and pedestrians from waist-deep waters. Tow truck drivers packed their lots with abandoned vehicles and parked others in school lots.

The storm stalled for an hour over parts of southern and eastern Los Angeles County. Among the areas hardest hit were urban communities in the southern Los Angeles district of Watts and in neighboring South Gate, Lynwood and Compton.

Martice Thacker was forced to abandon her car when the hail began.

"I panicked, and I opened the door, and the ice came all the way up in the car," she told KCAL-TV.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department responded to blazes caused by lightning strikes and rescued people trapped in elevators that lost power, said fire Capt. Mark Savage.

"It's been freaky," he said.

A small mudslide covered part of Highway 18 near Rimforest in the San Bernardino Mountains, but the road remained open and no more serious slides were reported. Mudslides had been feared in mountain and hillside areas cleared of vegetation by wildfires that raged through the region some two weeks ago.

Air traffic was disrupted for an hour and about two dozen flights into Los Angeles International Airport were diverted to other airports. All were expected to make it to LAX overnight.

Nearly 10,000 electrical customers were left without power for extended periods, Southern California Edison Co. spokesman Steve Conroy said.

Some made the best of the rare weather. Teens in Compton, about 10 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, pelted each other with ice in a hail-ball fight.

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