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Friday, March 6, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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El Nino Has Caused Mudslides, Flooding - And Now, Potholes

AP

LOS ANGELES - Mudslides, flooding and farming woes aren't the only problems created by heavy El Nino storms this winter: California drivers are being bumped and rattled by a minefield of potholes.

Road crews have declared war on the car-wrecking craters, working day and night to fill holes that can pose dangers to drivers or cause costly damage to cars.

"It's an all-out offensive," said Karen Boyd, spokeswoman for the Oakland Public Works Agency, which has six to 10 crews filling about 150 potholes a day.

Potholes are formed when moisture softens the soil below the pavement. And California has had no shortage of moisture this year. Total rainfall in Los Angeles this winter, for example, has reached 22.83 inches from wave after wave of El Nino-powered storms.

"This is the most I've ever seen. We're getting potholes next to potholes," said Sam Houston, a road worker who has repaired potholes for 30 years.

The California Department of Transportation, charged with maintaining 49,000 "lane miles" of California roads, estimates damage so far at $137 million.

Potholes up to 20 feet wide and 5 inches deep have formed and re-formed with each new storm. Reports of craters are up 400 percent in Los Angeles.

Potholes have been a problem in San Francisco, too. Crews filled holes at 157 locations, nearly four times normal, during the week of Feb. 19 alone.

"We've had bent wheels, front ends knocked out. We replaced a bunch of wheels and tires," said Don Crenshaw of The Tire Man Store in Thousand Oaks. "Some people are trying to contact the highway department because they might be able to get money from them."

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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