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Crews search for man swept away during California flooding

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Francine Orr /Los Angeles Times / AP

Bill Beaury, with Golden Empire Towing, works to remove vehicles on California 58 east of Tehachapi, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015.

Updated Monday, Oct. 19, 2015 | 11:04 a.m.

LOS ANGELES — Authorities searched Monday for a 67-year-old man reportedly swept away during flash flooding and mudslides last week that inundated roads and homes in a rural area of Southern California, authorities said.

Richard Harvell of Boron was last seen late Thursday while trying to save his truck from a torrent of mud and sand, Kern County sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said. The truck was later found a short distance away in the Rosamond area, where Harvell had been visiting friends, Pruitt said.

Teams searched the foot of the Tehachapi Mountains, in the open desert near communities hit hard by mudslides. The area, which saw up to 6 feet of muck come down from hillsides, is south of State Route 58 in Tehachapi, where powerful thunderstorms Thursday triggered massive debris flows that trapped more than 100 cars, buses, RVs and big-rig trucks.

Crews on Monday hauled away the last of the vehicles from the highway, but tons of hardened mud still needs to be removed before traffic starts flowing again, officials said.

Drainage systems also needed to be cleared along an 8-mile stretch of the highway about 80 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, said Florene Trainor, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation. Officials hope to reopen the highway by Thursday at the latest.

Geologists determined that nearby hillsides were stable, so there were no fears of another mudslide if it started raining again, Caltrans officials said. The area got some weekend drizzle, but no serious rain, and dry period was developing, forecasters said.

To the south, Los Angeles County crews reopened stretches of five roads in mountain communities about 40 miles north of Los Angeles that also were inundated during the flooding.

The reopening Sunday came "well ahead of original forecasts," with more than 40 bulldozers, dump trucks and other heavy equipment working through the weekend to shift an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of mud, according to a Los Angeles County Public Works statement. Work continued on two other roads in the Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth areas.

Nearly 3 inches of rain fell in 30 minutes Thursday in the Leona Valley area of Los Angeles County, the National Weather Service said. Hundreds of cars also got stuck on Interstate 5, a major artery, but those vehicles were removed and the freeway reopened late Friday.

Homeowners in northern Los Angeles County communities spent their weekend digging mud out of their houses.

At least one of the homes in the area is considered a total loss after flooding ripped it from its foundation, Kerjon Lee, a spokesman for county Public Works, said Saturday. Crews were assessing homes in the area, and Lee said the number of those destroyed could rise.

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