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Many missing as flood collapses a highway

A river swollen by the season's wettest El Nino-powered storm swept away part of a highway and several vehicles Tuesday, and two police officers and several motorists were missing.

At least four deaths in Southern California and northern Mexico have been blamed on the latest storm, which spawned two tornadoes Tuesday and sent mud cascading down weakened hillsides.A search and rescue operation was under way 20 miles east of Santa Maria, where the Cuyama River chewed away part of a highway, taking along a tractor-trailer rig and a half-dozen cars, including a California Highway Patrol cruiser. Santa Maria is about 60 miles northwest of Santa Barbara.

The driver of the truck was rescued but the officers and an undetermined number of motorists were still missing. The officers had been checking an accident at the scene along the central California coast when the highway collapsed, said CHP Lt. Paul Mat-thi-es.

"The river was swollen at the time, and it washed away the foundation of the highway," Matthies said. The officers' patrol car was later found upside-down in mud.

Hundreds of homes in at least five counties across the state were threatened by flooding and hillsides crumbling from a month of storms. Rock and mud slides closed many roads and highways in Southern California.

In northern Mexico, a car was swept away about midnight trying to cross a stream in Tijuana's La Presa section, said Antonio Rosquillas, director of civil protection for the city. One man was confirmed dead and four were missing.