David Pardo / The Victor Valley Daily Press via AP

Rare July downpour in California floods roads and stops traffic

Unusual torrential rain blamed for bridge collapse on major highway as parched state sees flash floods

All traffic along one of the major highways connecting California and Arizona was blocked indefinitely when a bridge over a desert wash collapsed during a major storm, and the roadway in the opposite direction sustained severe damage, authorities said Monday. The ongoing drought in the state has helped sparked fires and the bone-dry ground can't absorb the torrential rains.

Sunday's collapse of Interstate 10 in Southern California left one driver injured, stranded numerous others and complicated travel through the region, possibly for a long time. Drivers who would normally use the six-lane I-10 will have to go far out of their way on two-lane local routes.

Inspectors planned to assess all bridges along a 30-mile stretch of the interstate after a second bridge showed signs of damage following the storm, which sent torrents of water and debris through desert washes, Terri Kasinga, spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation, said Monday.

She did not know how many bridges that stretch included. The agency did not detail the damage to the bridge.

Showers and thunderstorms in Southern and Central California set rainfall records in what is usually a dry month. Flash flood warnings remained in place Monday as the remnants of a tropical storm off Baja California continued to push north.

The bridge for eastbound traffic about 50 miles west of the Arizona state line gave way and ended up in the floodwaters below, the California Highway Patrol said.

The westbound section of the freeway near the tiny town of Desert Center was also closed. The roadway was intact but badly undermined by flooding and could need extensive rebuilding, Kasinga said.

No timeframe was given for when either side would reopen as crews were diverted from other projects to examine the site Monday.

Transportation officials recommended that travelers on the east side of the collapse use U.S. Highway 95 in Arizona to get to other freeways, and that in California drivers use state routes 86 and 111 to get to Interstate 8 into Arizona. Drivers from the Los Angeles area who want to rejoin I-10 could take the mountainous State Route 62 to the north — a journey of an additional 140 miles and several extra hours.

One driver had to be rescued from a pickup that crashed in the collapse and was taken to a hospital with moderate injuries, the Riverside County Fire Department said.

Hundreds of other cars were stranded immediately after the collapse, but the California Highway Patrol worked to divert them. It wasn't clear if any remained, Kasinga said.

Rain fell Sunday afternoon in parts of Los Angeles County's mountains, the valley north and inland urban areas to the east as remnants of tropical storm Dolores brought warm, muggy conditions northward.

The showers forced the Los Angeles Angels' first rainout in 20 years and the San Diego Padres' first rainout since 2006.

Saturday's rainfall broke records in at least 11 locations, including five places that had the most rain ever recorded on any day in July, said National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Sirard.

July is typically the driest month of the year in Southern California. Because of that, Saturday's 0.36 inch of rain in downtown Los Angeles exceeded the 0.24 inch recorded on July 14, 1886, which had been the wettest July day in nearly 130 years. Ramona in San Diego County received 4.1 inches of rain in the 48 hours ending at 7 p.m. Sunday, while Pinyon Pines in Riverside County got 3.28 inches.

The storm brought weekend flash floods and power outages and turned Los Angeles County's typically packed coast into empty stretches of sand. The threat of lightning forced authorities to close 70 miles of beaches.

The summer storm helped firefighters advance on two wildfires that broke out Friday, including one that forced the closure of another key Southern California freeway.

Interstate 15 in the mountainous Cajon Pass northeast of Los Angeles was shut down after flames swept across lanes, torching vehicles and sending people running for safety. All lanes were open Monday on the main artery between Southern California and Las Vegas, and the blaze was 75 percent contained.

The Associated Press

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