LOS ANGELES — The hillside above the California home of Wayne Socha had held firm against thunderstorms over the past three decades. But after a wildfire two years ago stripped
away vegetation and loosened soil, he feared the strong El Niño storms pounding the state could bring it all down.
So the 61-year-old corporate auditor grabbed a sledgehammer and waded through the muck in his Monrovia backyard to knock a hole in a cement wall and let a mudflow skirt his house and run into a street.
"It looked like Niagara Falls," Socha said. "It was quickly building up behind the house, and I knew it could come right inside."
Socha is among uncounted Californians trying to protect their property after the first El Niño storms descended this week and brought wet, windy weather to an area stretching all the way to the Gulf Coast.
Those storms dumped nearly 3 inches of rain Tuesday on Southern California, turning Socha's terraced backyard into a raging torrent of mud and debris. He kept his sledgehammer and shovels close Wednesday as the winter's most powerful El Niño storm so far pushed into the state.
Driving rain inundated the San Francisco Bay Area during the morning commute, causing nearly two dozen crashes, toppling trees and flooding streets and streams. Officials shut down the city's iconic cable cars, and buses were used to serve riders.
The system pushed south toward Los Angeles, stirring high waves in the ocean and causing extensive flooding in the San Fernando Valley that swamped cars in deep water. It packed colder temperatures, stronger winds and heavier rainfall than the previous storms that have lined up since the weekend and brought needed rain to the drought-stricken state.
In all, the current storm was expected to dump as much as 3 more inches of rain in coastal and valley areas and up to 4 inches at higher elevations, National Weather Service meteorologist Curt Kaplan said.
Another less-powerful El Niño storm was right behind and expected to hit land Thursday.
Los Angeles authorities spent days getting homeless people from low-lying areas along the Los Angeles River and other waterways prone to flooding.