Rain, snow continue to pound California

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">Calistoga, CA    Photo by: Lee and Paul Youngman (AP)</span></div>
January 7, 2008 10:16:21 AM PST
Tens of thousands of Californians were still without power after a series of fierce storms pounded the state over the weekend and toppled nearly 500 miles of power lines.

About 97,000 homes and businesses in Northern California and the Central Valley were in the dark Monday morning ahead of rain and snow that were forecast to return again soon.

National Weather Service meteorologist Angus Barkhuff said some parts of Northern California would get a reprieve from the rain and snow on Monday. But in the mountains, "there's a chance of snow and snow showers all the way through Thursday," he said.

The storm was expected to weaken in Southern California, with the forecast calling for a 30 percent chance of rain on Monday, the NWS said.

Utility crews were using the break in the weather to work on power lines. In all, more than 2 million customers from the Oregon border to Los Angeles lost power since the storms arrived Friday.

"The biggest issue is just the sheer magnitude of the storm that hit and the number of individual locations affected," said Jon Tremayne, a Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman. Thousands of customers have lacked electricity since Friday may not see power restored until the middle of the week in the northern Sierra and the Santa Cruz Mountains, PG&E officials said.

As many as four deaths were being blamed on the fierce winds, rain and snow.

Lindsey Marie Erickson, 25, of Corona died when her pickup truck was swept into a flood channel in Chino after she and her boyfriend unwittingly drove onto a flooded road.

North of Sacramento, 57-year-old Milton Smith, a Yuba County public workers employee, died after he was struck by a falling branch while clearing a road.

In Sacramento, two bodies were found in a wooded area near a homeless camp, fire Capt. Jim Doucette said Sunday. Doucette said the cause of death for the two men wasn't yet known, but friends at a nearby shelter told authorities they had advised the two to leave before the storms hit early Friday, and the men opted to stay behind.

In the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles, search crews on Sunday failed to find a 62-year-old hiker who went missing just before the storm began, San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Arden Wiltshire said. Searchers last had cell phone contact with Dean Christy early Saturday, she said.

The searchers were called in late Sunday because of blizzard conditions, but would resume Monday.

Seven family members were hospitalized after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning from a propane lantern they brought inside their home outside Chico. A boy in the house woke up when he heard his sister collapse in the bathroom, Sgt. Jim Miranda of the Glenn County Sheriff's Department said. Several were unconscious or nauseous when they arrived at a hospital Saturday.

Utility officials warned against using gas-powered portable heating sources inside, saying it was extremely dangerous. A house fire Saturday in Sacramento was thought to be caused by candles being used to light the home during the power outage.

In the snowy Sierra foothills, workers trying to restore power were being forced to rely on snowshoes, all-terrain vehicles and helicopters to repair equipment in the most remote spots.

In Glenn County, one of three hard-hit counties where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared emergencies Saturday, hundreds of residents were staying at shelters and motels until power was restored but that may not happen until Thursday, Sheriff Larry Jones said.

Thousands of Southern California residents were urged to remain away from homes that could be threatened by flooding and slides in wildfire-scarred canyons, though mandatory evacuation orders were lifted. A small mudslide in San Diego spilled mud and debris into the backyards of two homes after a neighbor's retaining wall gave way.

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Associated Press writers Peter Prengaman in Los Angeles and Jason Dearen in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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