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California storm takes misery eastward

California, USA
Snow covered San Gabriel Mountains are seen above the downtown Los Angeles skyline January 7, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Blue skies opened up over California on Monday after a storm system that had pummeled the state for days finally moved on, bringing heavy snow, flooding and hundreds of wrecks to several states across the West.

Colorado's San Juan Mountains were socked with 30 inches of snow and wind gusts of as high as 100 mph, while roofs collapsed at several business in north Idaho after 20 inches of snow fell around Coeur d'Alene.

"They got clobbered," National Weather Service meteorologist John Livingston said of Coeur d'Alene residents. A second wintery blast was forecast to hit the state Tuesday.

In Durango, Colo., about 340 miles southwest of Denver, even the sledding hills were at risk of avalanches after 18 inches of snowfall.

In Spokane, Wash., where 13.7 inches of snow fell, city officials closed City Hall and urged residents to stay home to give snowplows a chance to catch up. City and county governments told nonessential workers to stay home.

In eastern Oregon's Wallowa Mountains, authorities found two snowmobilers missing over the weekend in the 4 feet of snow that fell there.

Snowbird ski resort in Utah stopped the chair lifts more than two hours early after receiving about 15 inches of snow.

"It's rare to close down the lifts," spokeswoman Laura Schaffer said. "The minute the avalanche danger got up there, we felt it was safer to get (skiers) off the mountain."

California finally saw clear skies Monday after a week of downpours and heavy snowfalls, but the reprieve might not last long. There was a 20 percent chance of rain Wednesday, and two more storms, weaker than the past weekend's, were forecast to reach the region on Friday.

But experts said canyons and hills in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties that were charred by last year's wildfires remained vulnerable.

"Even though today's weather conditions have improved, many areas, particularly the burn areas of Southern California, are at risk of mudslides due to saturated soil conditions," Office of Emergency Services spokesman Gary Renick said.

The stormy weather boosted Los Angeles' rainfall to 11.73 inches so far this season, including 7.97 inches this month alone. Normal rainfall by this time would be 6.74 inches.

In Arizona, the precipitation fell as heavy rain, flooding creeks and rivers. Some residents of the town of Carrizo fled for a time after fears that two dams might fail. The evacuations were canceled after water levels lowered and an inspection of the dams showed no apparent damage.

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