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Evacuation as storm hits California

Authorities in California have begun evacuations as concerns grow about potential mudslides in the wildfire-scarred foothills across the southern part of the state.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for Kern, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo and Tulare counties because of the extreme weather conditions.

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 evacuated dozens of homes and businesses but no structural damage was reported in the city, said Lt Andra Brown. A commuter rail station was closed in the city's Sorrento Valley area due to heavy rains. About a dozen homes were evacuated in a cul-de-sac south of downtown.

A mudslide closed one street in the La Jolla area of San Diego. Farther inland in Riverside, a surge of water swept through a homeless camp near the banks of the Santa Ana River.

Rebecca Truver, 45, was in her tent when her dog and her cat started acting strangely. "They knew something was happening," Truver said of her dog and cat. "Then all of a sudden the water came through up to my knees."

"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. Thursday is expected to be dry, with sunshine. There will be light rain on Christmas Day in parts of California.

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 burns up dead leaves and other debris that act like a sponge.

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