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Storm-weakened tree kills sleeping 8-year-old girl in her Arnold home

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POSTED March 19, 2012 8:38 p.m.

ARNOLD  (AP) — A storm-weakened tree crashed down on a house, killing a sleeping 8-year-old girl, as a fierce winter storm blew through California over the weekend, leaving thousands without power Monday.

The 100-foot-tall fir tree hit a home in the Northern California town of Arnold early Sunday, killing Haley Verzani in her bedroom, authorities said.

The tree, which was 3 feet in diameter, fell across a creek after a night of heavy snow and fatally pinned the girl to her bed, Ebbetts Pass Fire District Chief David Baugher said.

Firefighters responding to a 911 call maneuvered through unplowed snow and had to call in heavy equipment to lift the tree off the house, a process that took an hour, Baugher said.

Severe winter storms have caused havoc in the past in Ebbetts Pass, a mountainous section of Calaveras County about 30 miles northwest of Yosemite National Park. During the week of Thanksgiving 2010, snow led to 250 calls about fallen trees, though there were no fatalities, Baugher said. Federal authorities at the time declared Ebbetts Pass a disaster area.

The storm that rolled into the region Saturday on the eve of spring followed a dry winter caused by La Nina, a condition in which the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean is lower than normal.

"It was very unusual because it was probably the first actual major storm for this year," said Stuart Seto, a National Weather Service forecaster.

Snow was to blame in the deaths of a skier and a snowboarder in the Sierra, where storms dropped more than 5 feet of snow on some ski resorts over the past few days.

A 30-year-old snowboarder on Sunday fell head first into the snow at China Peak Mountain Resort northeast of Fresno and suffocated, said resort owner Tim Cohee.

Fresno County Deputy Coroner Kelly Wiefel told the Mariposa Gazette that the victim was Kynan Stanners, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection firefighter who lived in the Bass Lake area.

In Northern California, a skier fell into a hole created by an underflow of water at the Sierra-at-Tahoe resort early Sunday afternoon.

The El Dorado County Sheriff's department said the victim was 54-year-old Yiwei Hu of Gold River.

Skiing or snowboarding in deep snow always carries risks, and anyone hitting the slopes in those conditions should take proper precautions, said Steven Hemphill, Sierra-at-Tahoe spokesman.

"Always partner up, be with a partner at all times," Hemphill said.

At Kirkwood Mountain Resort, a skier was taken to a hospital after being injured in a small avalanche, said resort spokesman Michael Dalzell, adding that he didn't know the extent of the person's injury.

The National Weather Service predicted more snow was likely to fall in the Lake Tahoe area early Tuesday.

The rain was much needed in parched California. In Southern California, the storm dumped about three-quarters of an inch of rain in downtown Los Angeles and 2-3 inches, generally, in the mountains. The rain was needed

Rain has been in short supply this winter. Los Angeles normally receives nearly 13 inches of rain during the year that runs from July 1 to June 30, but so far it has received around 6 inches, Seto said.

"It helped but it wasn't enough to bring us anywhere near normal," he said. "Basically, La Nina is hampering our weather pattern."

The storm produced gusty winds that knocked down power lines. Overall, nearly 160,000 customers were left in the dark at times, although most outages were brief.

By Monday about 1,500 Southern California Edison customers remained without power, most of them in the areas of Santa Monica and Rancho Palos Verdes.

The storm moved eastward, and by midmorning, only San Diego County was seeing any stormy weather. Ice and snow closed dozens of miles of Interstate 8 in Cleveland National Forest for more than an hour before it was cleared.

Temperatures were expected to be about 5 degrees warmer through Tuesday, as a little high pressure moved into the area. The next chance of rain was not expected until Saturday, forecasters said.

The storm was a blessing to ski resorts and to kids who were praying for a snow day. Southern California mountains generally received a half-foot to 2 feet of snow, but Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra Nevada reported 42 inches over two days.

"There hasn't been anything like this all season," Robby Ellingson, general manager of Mount Baldy ski resort, told the San Bernardino Sun (http://bit.ly/zZV8iv ).

The snow could allow the Mountain High resort to extend its season until Easter, Kim Hermon told the paper.

"This is the best storm we've had in the 2011-2012 season," she said. "It's a March miracle."

 

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