Flood Destroys Bridge, Severs Interstate 10 in Southern California

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The Interstate 10 bridge that collapsed Sunday near Desert Center, 180 miles east of Los Angeles.  (KMIR News)

LOS ANGELES — Interstate 10, one of the main routes connecting California and Arizona, remained severed Monday after weekend flooding destroyed a highway bridge and caused severe damage to the roadway.

The collapse Sunday afternoon of the bridge near Desert Center -- about 180 miles east of Los Angeles and 50 miles west of Blythe, on the Arizona state line -- left one driver injured, stranded numerous motorists and complicated travel for countless others for what officials warned could be a long time.

The closure will force drivers seeking to use I-10 to travel between Los Angeles and Phoenix to use detours that could add more than 160 miles to their trips. Caltrans said Monday that at least one other bridge along the desert freeway suffered damage, and that it would closely inspect a 30-mile stretch of the road.

Caltrans spokesman Will Shuck said Monday that no safety issues were found with the 48-year-old bridge during an inspection on March 17. The bridge failed as a reported 6.7 inches of rain fell on Desert Center on Sunday.

The rains came amid a second day of showers and thunderstorms in Southern and Central California that were setting rainfall records in what is historically the state's driest month. Forecasters expected scattered rain through Monday as the remnants of a tropical storm off Baja California continued to push north.


The eastbound bridge gave way just after 4:30 p.m., with the structure ending up in the roaring torrent below.

The westbound section of the freeway was also closed. The roadway was intact but extremely undermined by flooding and could need just-as-extensive rebuilding, Terri Kasinga, a Caltrans spokeswoman.

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 and it wasn't clear if any remained, Kasinga said.

No time frame was given for when either side of the freeway would reopen as Caltrans examines the site.

Transportation officials recommended westbound travelers on the Arizona side of the collapse use U.S. 95, from Quartzsite, on I-10, to Yuma, on I-8; on the west side of the demolished bridge, eastbound travelers were advised to use state Highways 86 or 111 to detour from Coachella, on I-10, to El Centro, on I-8.

Each of those detours would add 160 or so miles to the normal 375-mile trip from L.A. to Phoenix on I-10.

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 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. Running Springs and Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino Mountains had more than 2½ inches, while Kearny Mesa in San Diego received 2.39 inches.

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

The summer storm has 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.

AP Writer Chris Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this story.