FERNLEY, Nev. - Hundreds of homes sat in as much as 8 feet of water Sunday following a canal rupture as freezing temperatures hindered efforts to get the water to drain away.

As many as 400 homes were damaged when the canal's bank gave way following heavy rainfall produced by the West Coast storm system that had piled snow at least 5 feet deep in the Sierra Nevada and blacked out thousands of customers in three states. At least three deaths were blamed on the storm.

"In 10 minutes the entire back yard was completely flooded. It was just nothing but water," said Kristin Watson, whose home backs up to part of the canal. "We just sort of panicked because we knew we had to get out of there real quick."

Winter storm warnings remained in effect for some mountainous areas from California to Colorado. Residents were warned of possible mudslides in parts of rain-soaked Southern California where slopes had been denuded by the fall's wildfires.

One hiker was missing in snow-covered mountains in Southern California, and four snowmobilers were missing in heavy snow in the mountains of southern Colorado.

The irrigation canal ruptured at Fernley early Saturday and was repaired by late in the day, but as much as a square mile of the town was still under water at least 2 feet deep Sunday as ice kept the water from draining naturally.

"Our hope is over the next 24 hours to get the water out," Fernley Mayor Todd Cutler said at a briefing Sunday morning. "But we still have up to 8 feet of water in some areas. We need to keep the storm drains unclogged to keep the water moving to a wetland. We also may need to do some pumping in some areas."

Lyon County Fire Division Chief Scott Huntley estimated 1,500 people had been displaced. No injuries were reported in the town of 20,000 people about 30 miles east of Reno.

Huntley said officials knew of 18 cases of people rescued from atop homes or cars as fire department and private boats plus four helicopters were pressed into action Saturday, but he believes there were many more.

"The sheer number of rescues was amazing," Huntley said Sunday.

"For citizens to give of themselves and to help their neighbors, I'm choked up about it," Cutler said.

Despite heavy rain Friday, Gov. Jim Gibbons said the canal was not full when the bank failed.

"This indicates to me there might have been a structural weakness over the years. Nobody knows and we don't want to speculate at this time," the governor said.

One possible factor that officials have mentioned was rodents burrowing holes in the earthen bank, which also was involved in a smaller collapse that flooded about 60 Fernley homes in December 1996.

"If you get just a tiny little break, from a rodent, from anything, it can take the rest of the soil and gravel with it," said Martha VanGeem, principal engineer with CTLGroup, a Skokie, Ill.-based consulting firm.

She said the large volume of water in the canal put more pressure on the bank and likely sped up its rupture. "They could have caught it early if there wasn't so much rain," VanGeem said.

In the mountains east of Los Angeles, authorities searched Sunday for a 62-year-old man who went hiking Friday just before the storm began, San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Arden Wiltshire said. Searchers last had cell phone contact with him early Saturday, before snow began falling in the area.

Farther east, rescuers in Colorado resumed a search Sunday for four snowmobilers last seen Friday, before a heavy snow storm dumped 3 to 4 feet near Cumbres Pass, close to the New Mexico line. The road to the pass, elevation 10,222 feet, had been closed earlier Sunday and officials initially said the search might not resume until Monday.

Donna Oney of the Colorado State Patrol said 11 search and rescue team members and three deputies were looking for the snowmobilers.

At least 5 feet of snow had fallen on ski areas in the rugged Sierra Nevada by early Sunday, with 9 feet possible at some higher elevations, the National Weather Service said. As much as 3 feet more could hit the area by Tuesday evening, the weather service said.

More than 220,000 homes and businesses in Northern California were still without power Sunday, and Pacific Gas and Electric said the storm had downed nearly 500 miles of power lines and more than 500 utility poles throughout the Central Valley and the San Francisco Bay area. Repair crews in the snow-covered Sierra foothills will have to use snowshoes, all-terrain vehicles and helicopters, utility officials said.

Fewer than 5,000 customers were still blacked out in the Los Angeles area. The storm also caused blackouts in parts of Oregon and Washington.

Seven people were hospitalized at Willows, Calif., near Chico, after suffering carbon monoxide poisoning from a propane lantern they used indoors because of the blackout, Glenn County officials said.

The storm was blamed for two deaths in California, including a woman whose pickup truck was swept into a flood channel east of Los Angeles, and one death in Oregon, police said.