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Soggy California braces for deluge, as more storms take aim

More storms are steering toward California, which is already deluged. Warnings of flash floods and mudslides are in place in some communities, as worries rise about additional flooding.

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A vehicle drives through a puddle of rain water in Hollywood, California on Dec. 18. The National Weather Service has issued warnings of heavy rain with potential mudslides and flooding as a series of powerful storms moves through southern California.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

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At a corner Starbucks in Sherman Oaks, Calif., Milah Miller sips a latte and, on her laptop, googles the word “mudslide.”

“I thought it was a big ‘duh’ that a vegetation-stripped hillside can’t hold rain,” says Ms. Miller, who owns a home in a nearby canyon that is now being pelted by record rains. But it could be even worse. “Now, I’m finding that last year’s [wildfires] released a gas into the soil that weakens roots and forms a wax-like layer over the soil just beneath the surface. That’s why rocks and trees and mud flow so fast it’s hard to get out of the way.”

How fast does mud flow? That's not exactly clear. Estimates from local news reports range from 35 to 64 miles per hour.

Miller, a travel agent, is happy to escape, at least for a few hours, the incessant TV team-coverage of the rare weather system now striking the state. Since Friday, downtown Los Angeles has received 3.75 inches of rain, one-fourth of the average yearly rainfall, says the National Weather Service. Local news and newspapers are filled with stories of people sandbagging their streets and backyards to guide rushing water and mud away from their homes, thanks to a weather phenomenon that hits the state about once a decade.

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