The New Year has got off to a nightmarish start for many Californians, with a winter storm swelling rivers, setting off mudslides and prompting calls to evacuate. Hundreds – certain reports suggest thousands – have already fled their homes. Others had to be winched to safety by helicopter. The wine region north of San Francisco has taken a particularly heavy pounding. Numerous roads, including major highways, have been cut off. After a year in which severe weather caused chaos in the United States, including Hurricane Katrina which killed at least 1,300 people, this was the last way the country will have wanted to start 2006. The authorities have warned that more rain is on the way.