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Homes, highway empty in exposed areas as Southern California braces for now-rare major storm

A women walks along Treasure Island with the San Francisco Bay bridge in the background during a rain storm Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in San Francisco. Several winter storms are expected to bring rain to the Bay Area through the end of the week. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

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A women walks along Treasure Island with the San Francisco Bay bridge in the background during a rain storm Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in San Francisco. Several winter storms are expected to bring rain to the Bay Area through the end of the week. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Homes were evacuated as a swift storm with expected heavy rain moved toward drought plagued Southern California, bringing worries of mudslides where recent wildfires left mountainsides exposed.

The storm's full force was expected to be felt Friday morning, with possible thunderstorms and rains up to an inch per hour, the National Weather Service said.

A 10-mile stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway was closed overnight in Ventura County because of a high likelihood of rock slides in an area made bare by last year's Springs Fire in Camarillo, the California Highway Patrol said.

On Thursday, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for about 1,000 homes in Glendora and Azusa, eastern foothill suburbs of Los Angeles that sit beneath nearly 2,000 acres of steep mountain slopes stripped by another fire in January.

"We have an hour to get evacuated," said Dana Waldusky as she hurried to evacuate the family home next to the burn area in Glendora. "We're just boarding up all our doors."

Waldusky, 22, said she, her parents and sister made sure they had important documents, photos, medicines and their toothbrushes packed.

"Last time, at the fire, we had 15 minutes, so this time we made sure we were prepared," she said.

The home survived the fire, which firefighters stopped 15 feet from their back fence.

"This time there's nothing you can do. You can't stop water," she said.

As a lighter storm moved through the area earlier in the week, residents focusing on Friday built barriers of wood and sandbags to keep debris flows in streets and out of homes.

While concern was highest in the Glendora-Azusa area, meteorologists also posted flood watches for many other areas denuded by fires over the past two years.

Cities in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties were handing out sandbags in anticipation of heavy rain.

Even waterspouts offshore and small tornados were possible, the NWS said.

Strong winds and snow down to elevations of 7,000 feet were expected in the mountains of San Bernardino and Riverside counties Friday, and at lower elevations on Saturday.

California's rain totals are far below normal and it will take a series of drenching storms to make a dent in a statewide drought that is among the worst in recent history.

The state Department of Water Resources took a new survey of the Sierra Nevada snowpack and found the water content at only 24 per cent of average for the date. The northern and central Sierra snowpack normally provides about a third of the water used by California's cities and farms.

Back in Glendora, City Manager Chris Jeffers said he understood that no one wants to leave their home but the city had to take an important lesson from history.

The area was struck by mudslides in 1969 after a fire and about 30 homes were lost.

"Glendora was a citrus community at 20,000 people, with orchards up there," Jeffers said, compared to the now-urbanized city of 50,000.

"Now it's all homes and so we have a lot more homes in harm's way, which means more people in harm's way," he said.

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