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Death toll hits 9 in California storm

Mud oozed down the canyons of this seaside enclave like lumpy chocolate pudding, smashing through homes and sweeping away residents as they scrambled to stay above the hip-high torrent.

"It was a washing machine as far as I knew, I was just rocking and rolling and just desperately crawling my way to the top of wherever I was," Ann Quilter said.Quilter and others escaped with their lives as the wall of mud thundered toward their Laguna Canyon Road homes early Tuesday. But as the sun rose, rescuers found the body of Glenn Flook, 25, in the mud. At least one resident was still missing, and a search was resuming Wednesday.

Nine people were killed as the season's most powerful El Nino storm struck the waterlogged West Coast, killing people from Tijuana, Mexico, to northeastern California.

After leaving hundreds homeless, severing roads and rail lines and closing 35 miles of pristine Los Angeles beach, the storm moved east Tuesday. Steady rain in Nevada around Las Vegas and nearly 2 feet of snow in Utah gave those states their wettest February on record. A foot of snow fell in the Arizona mountains.

Although more El Nino storms are likely, this soaker was apparently the last of a series of back-to-back weather systems that have punished California since late January. Blamed for more than $475 million in damage, they prompted 36 of 58 counties to declare states of emergency.

Sunshine and only a possibility of light rain are forecast over the next week, but additional storms are possible after that, National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Bruno said.

As Los Angeles recorded 13.7 inches of rain for the month - breaking a 114-year record - a flooded Los Angeles County sewer system sent millions of gallons of untreated sewage spilling into Santa Monica Bay. Beaches from Palos Verdes to Malibu were closed.

Meanwhile Wednesday, President Clinton toured an area in central Florida hard hit by devastating tornadoes, assessing the damage from the storms and planning to offer words of comfort - and a promise of federal aid - to victims.

After arriving at nearby Orlando International Airport, Clinton, who has already declared the region a disaster area, stepped from Air Force One and boarded a helicopter to fly over Osceola County to see the destruction left by a series of tornadoes that roared through the area on Monday.

The storms, the deadliest in Florida's recorded history with winds of up to 260 mph, killed at least 39 people and leveled scores of homes. Three people were still missing Wednesday.