SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The storm that pummeled much of California for three days began moving east Thursday after causing at least six deaths, forcing wildfire victims threatened by floods to flee their homes and plunging nearly 300,000 utility customers into darkness at its peak.
The National Weather Service says the winter storm is forecast to drop its heavy rain, snow and wind in Colorado next and move across much of country in coming days.
"It will be slamming the East Coast by Sunday," NWS forecaster Steve Anderson said. "From Maine to Florida."
Anderson said most of California should be dry and sunny by Friday.
The three-day drenching did put a dent in California's drought.
Government and university researchers who maintain the U.S. Drought Monitor map downgraded most of the state's drought classification from abnormally dry to some level of drought, mostly of moderate intensity.
Californians endured canceled flights, falling trees, downed power lines and threats of localized flooding.
"Our tree crews have been working around the clock to clear downed trees and large branches during the heavy rains and high winds," San Francisco's Department of Public Works said. Fallen trees blocked the city's iconic cable car tracks for hours Thursday and similarly delayed other commuter trains in region.
The California Highway Patrol says a falling tree killed a 42-year-old homeless man in Oakland on Wednesday.
The CHP said the victim may have been trying to shelter under some trees near an Oakland freeway when he was crushed by a 30-foot-long (9-meter) branch.
The man may have been "just trying to stay dry," CHP officer Herman Baza said.
A few hours later, a pedestrian looking at a downed power line who went into the street to avoid a falling tree was struck and killed by a van in Mill Valley about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of San Francisco.
CHP reported that four people were killed in two separate Northern California auto accidents caused by rain-slickened roads this week, including a family of three killed Tuesday in the Sierra Nevada foothill town of Placerville.
A 200-year-old oak tree towering 100 feet over James Holmes' suburban San Francisco home toppled over in the wind Wednesday night.
"My family lived under it in our house, for 70 years," he said.
Southern California authorities concerned with rising streams and excessive runoff ordered evacuations in parts of Malibu and other areas scarred by wildfires. Malibu schools canceled classes. Santa Anita racetrack canceled its slate of horse races Thursday.
Northern California authorities warned of imminent floods and debris flows in the wildfire-ravished city of Paradise and the surrounding region denuded of protective trees and vegetation, telling residents to prepare to flee on a moment's notice.
Meanwhile, blizzard conditions blanketed the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada and the region's ski resorts with as much as four feet of snow just in time for the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
So much snow accumulated on the tail of an executive jet parked at the Tahoe Truckee Airport that it propped its nose in the air Wednesday morning.
Pacific Gas & Electric said 280,000 customers lost power at some point since Wednesday. PG&E spokeswoman Mayra Tostado said 26,432 customers remained without power Thursday afternoon.
Rain and winds forced the cancellation of dozens of flights at San Francisco International Airport.
In areas recently scarred by wildfires, authorities feared small rivers and creeks would flood their banks and cause massive mudslides, further damaging communities struggling to recover from a historically bad fire season.
The blazes stripped hillsides of trees and other vegetation that stabilize soil and prevent mudslides, putting at risk thousands of people living in foothill and canyon areas devastated by wildfires.
The hillsides were holding but people in burn areas were urged to remain alert.
In the Southern California hillside community of Oak Park, where residents used pumps and sandbags to hold off rushing storm water, longtime resident Diane Starzak said her neighborhood "kind of dodged the bullet" as the worst of three days of storms began to taper off.
Antczak reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Janie Har in San Francisco and John Rogers in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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