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WINTER'S STRONGEST STORM BRINGS GRIDLOCK, OUTAGES.

Byline: Jason Kandel Staff Writer

The strongest storm of the winter downed power lines Tuesday, stranded about 150 students in blizzard conditions in the Angeles National Forest and confronted motorists with flooded streets and gridlocked freeways.

The brunt of the storm's impact was felt after midnight and into the early morning hours. Two to 6 inches of rain dropped on the Los Angeles Basin floor and between 4 and 7 feet of snow accumulated on local mountains as low as 3,000 feet.

The cold rain and wind are expected to taper off today as forecasters expect a slight chance of showers and possible thunderstorms.

``It will not be persistent and widespread like we saw (Tuesday) morning,'' said Ray Tanabe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The storm will give way to partly cloudy days Thursday through Saturday, followed by another, less intense, rainstorm expected late Saturday or early Sunday.

Blizzard-like conditions in the Angeles National Forest stranded a group of more than 150 fifth-graders and adults from Long Beach attending a science camp retreat at Camp High Hill near Mount Wilson.

And a caretaker and four members of his family were rescued Tuesday by helicopter after they were stranded in a church camp for four days with no heat and dwindling supplies. One member of the family is diabetic and her insulin ran out, authorities said.

Elsewhere, the bad weather slowed commutes and stranded truckers caught in snow in the Gorman pass on the Golden State Freeway. As a result, officials closed down the interstate so teams of snowplow and tractor crews could remove the 2 to 3 feet of snow that accumulated on the thoroughfare.

Caltrans officials hope to reopen the freeway between Lake Hughes and LaValle roads this afternoon.

``No sooner than we run plows through there, snow fills it back up,'' said Caltrans spokesman James Deno. ``We're working to blaze a new trail with blowers to set up a temporary road for trucks that are stuck there. But we're advising motorists to delay their trips. We know it's very much an inconvenience, but there's not a whole lot else we can do.''

Frustrated motorists were everywhere Tuesday, as commutes became extra-long waits.

Steve Wasserman left his Woodland Hills home at 8:30 a.m. for Van Nuys to get his car serviced. A drive that normally takes 20 minutes instead took Wasserman 90 minutes.

``I was taking my car in for service,'' said Wasserman, 33. ``And I even beat the mechanic there by about five minutes. There were large stretches of areas that the street lights were out. There were those four-way stops, but nobody knows how to do that. I was just trying to get through the intersections without getting hit. I'm working from home today because of all of this.''

The California Highway Patrol recorded about 250 crashes along highways between midnight and 10 a.m. Tuesday, compared with about 100 during the same period last week. There were no major injuries Tuesday, but one close call came when an empty MTA bus that was not in service slid off a freeway lane and onto an embankment on the San Diego Freeway near the transition lanes to the westbound Ventura Freeway.

The transition road remained closed nearly four hours later, along with two lanes of the westbound Ventura Freeway, according to CHP Officer Karen Faciane.

``Fortunately, it was empty, and it didn't roll over,'' said CHP Officer Ray Abramian, a spokesman. ``When it rains, people just continue driving like it's just another sunny day. Sixty-five miles per hour is the maximum speed allowed to be driven on these freeways, at least around here. When it's raining buckets and it's difficult to see out of your front window, slow down.''

The storm also caused scattered power outages. More than 33,000 Department of Water and Power customers were affected by power outages and problems since midnight Tuesday, officials said. Calls from residents flooded the DWP offices Tuesday, as traffic lights were on the fritz, voltages dipped, lights went out in homes, and tree branches hung precariously on electric lines.

The DWP received 2,741 service calls citywide, compared with about 300 on a typical day. As a result, DWP officials dispatched about 300 workers into the field.

``The outages usually occur because of the storm, windy weather; if branches brush a line, that can cause an outage,'' Battle said. ``If two lines come in contact, that can cause an outage.''

Staff Writers Patricia Farrell Aidem and Holly Edwards contributed to this report.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, chart

Photo:

(1 -- color) A blanket of snow covers an SR-71 on display at the Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale on Tuesday after the Southland's strongest storm of the winter rolled in overnight.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer

(2) Miguel Tambriz tries to stay dry during morning showers along Vanowen Street in Canoga Park.

Evan Yee/Staff Photographer

(3) A city worker prepares to cut branches off a stone pine tree felled by wind and rain in one of the season's worst storms. The fallen tree damaged two cars.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer

Chart: RAINFALL TOTALS
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Feb 14, 2001
Words:856
Previous Article:BUSH URGED TO BACK RULES FOR LESS DIESEL POLLUTION.
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