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Bruised California braces for more battering

Authorities ordered 500 families from their homes around California's largest natural lake, which was creeping higher with yet another El Nino-powered storm on the way.

The latest in a long string of storms was expected to hit drenched Northern California Monday night, bringing more heavy rain but lighter wind than the storm that ravaged the region Saturday.That could mean disaster for residents along Clear Lake - about 110 miles north of San Francisco - who were evacuated Sunday.

"If the lake goes up, most homes would suffer severe damage," said Wilda Shock, an emergency services spokeswoman.

At least nine deaths have been blamed on the weeklong series of storms in California, including two in the southern part of the state, and floods killed 14 in Mexico. More than 1,400 houses and other buildings have been damaged or destroyed in California.

On Sunday, Gov. Pete Wilson declared states of emergency in five more counties, bringing the total to 27, almost half the state. He also asked the federal government to declare the counties disaster areas, which would qualify them for federal relief.

"I think we need to be prepared for a series of storms from across the Pacific," Wilson said Sunday as he toured a weakened levee near Bryte, west of Sacramento.

Clear Lake had risen to 10.53 feet as of midnight - more than 11/2 feet above flood stage and was expected to pass 11 feet sometime Monday. The problem is that when the huge lake, with 110 miles of shoreline, rises, the water has no outlet except a narrow creek.

A dangerous escape valve would be through Clearlake Oaks, which was designed with meandering waterways that run past each house.

"The last time it went over 11 feet was in '86. Buildings were damaged. There was a lot of water," Shock said. "And the wind is a factor - it can break up piers and structures around the lake-front."

Precipitation amounts in the region have doubled the normal level for this time of year. The rain and snow is nearly triple the usual amount for February alone, with up to 9 feet of snow over the past week in the high Sierra Nevada.

In Southern California, powerful waves pounded the beach. At least one home collapsed in Malibu, sending furnishings into the sea, and five others suffered heavy damage.

In the Angeles National Forest, rescuers searched for a 14-year-old missing since he went out of resort boundaries while snowboarding Saturday. The search was suspended because of bad weather and was to resume Monday.

The storm also hit Tijuana, Mexico, where flash floods Sunday killed at least 14 people and forced hundreds from their homes.

At tiny Rio Nido north of San Francisco, where a half-dozen homes slid down rain-weakened hillsides, residents spent Sunday cleaning up.

But a yawning 40-foot crack in a wooded canyon wall above the hamlet threatened to send even more mud hurtling down the slope.