LOS ANGELES -- As cleanup efforts began for the mess left by a powerful Pacific storm that killed four people, rain-soaked Southern California got some good news: A weeklong siege of record-breaking storms may be over.
Another large storm initially expected to arrive Saturday probably won't materialize, which means overnight showers may signal the end of a procession of storms that left the region reeling, forecasters said yesterday.
"We have a little disturbance off the coast that looks like it will move through overnight. This looks like the last of the storms," said National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Baruffaldi.
Swollen rivers and creeks swept three people to their deaths, including a transient in Ventura County, a boy in Orange County and a Marine officer in San Diego County. Also, a weather-related crash killed a man in San Bernardino County.
President Clinton made federal assistance available to storm victims by declaring much of Southern California a disaster area.
The storm's record rainfall flooded homes and freeways, undermined streets and bridges, triggered mudslides and caused at least $50 million in damage statewide, according to the state Office of Emergency Services.
With roads rendered impassable by rock slides and washouts, Gov. Pete Wilson took to the air to tour muddy Malibu, hit hard by the unrelenting storm that turned canyon creeks into boulder-tossing torrents.
Fearing further movement of rain-soaked hillsides stripped of vegetation by the November 1993 firestorm, officials conducted a voluntary evacuation of Las Flores Canyon, where the creek had overflowed its bed.
Much of Pacific Coast Highway remained closed, turning the morning commute on the Ventura Freeway (101) -- the only alternative route -- into a crawl that prompted one driver to hang a hand-lettered sign in her rear window: "Please Be Patient."
Weather permitting, the California Department of Transportation hoped to reopen two lanes of the storm-battered Malibu Lagoon Bridge to light traffic today, restoring a key link whose previous closure effectively cut the oceanside community in two.
Elsewhere, work crews managed to restore electrical service to more than 100,000 customers and reopen many flooded roads. Traffic resumed on Highway 101 in Ventura County.
Upstream, residents forced to flee their homes when the usually slow-moving river and its tributaries burst their banks returned yesterday to begin what promised to be a long cleaning job.
"There's mud everywhere," lamented Eddi Galindo of the Ventura County community of Ojai as he shoveled ankle-deep muck out of his driveway.
The Ventura County Coroner's Office identified the storm's first fatality as William Lee Schubert, 31, one of dozens of homeless people camping in the Ventura River area. His body was found not far from where 13 other transients were plucked alive from the flood waters by helicopter rescue crews.
In Orange County, 12-year-old Cary Dean Burlew of Mission Viejo drowned when he and nine others tried to cross Trabuco Creek late Tuesday. The boy fell into the roiling water when an extension cord tying him to an adult snapped, county fire officials said.
After an all-night search, a U.S. Marine search team found the body of Lt. Col. Harry M. Murdock, 43, who was swept into turbulent San Onofre Creek while trying to find a safe crossing point for troops involved in a field training exercise, Marine officials said.
A 21-year-old motorist was killed on Interstate 15 in the San Bernardino County area of Fontana and his male passenger was left in critical condition when the driver apparently lost control of his car in the heavy rain, swerved into the center divider and collided with a pickup truck, according to the Highway Patrol.
Mr. Clinton, who declared Ventura, Orange, Los Angeles and 21 other counties major disaster areas late Tuesday, followed up with a televised broadcast to rain-soaked Californians yesterday, promising quick federal assistance.