Evacuations set for Tuesday in LA County foothills

Evacuations set for Tuesday in LA County foothills

08 February 2010

published by www.mercurynews.com

USA —  LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles County authorities have ordered evacuations for more than 500 homes in mudslide-prone foothill neighborhoods as a new storm approaches.

Sheriff’s officials began notifying residents in certain areas of La Crescenta, La Canada Flintridge and Acton Monday night that they need to be out of their homes by 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Officials said the evacuations were ordered as a safety precaution following predictions of rainfall for Tuesday and Wednesday.

The National Weather Service said the storm could dump up to one and a-half inches of rain on San Gabriel Mountain slopes that were burned in last year’s massive wildfire in the Angeles National Forest. Without plants to bind the soil, the slopes can become soaked and collapse.

“It’s already saturated as it is up there, so we’re going to take every precaution that we can,” Nishida said.

The area will see a 40 percent chance of rain on Wednesday and a 20-percent chance on Friday, according to the weather service.

On Saturday, a storm front stalled over the mountains and created an unexpectedly fierce downpour. A boulder weighing several tons clogged a debris basin, which overflowed and sent a sea of mud roaring through La Canada Flintridge, a foothill community northeast of Los Angeles. Cars were swept away and living rooms filled with mud.

Forty-three homes were damaged, and nine were red-tagged as being uninhabitable. More than 500 homes were evacuated, although the order was later lifted.

On Monday, a fleet of 300 county dump trucks and other heavy machinery lifted concrete barriers back into position and hauled away tons of mud, tree limbs and boulders from catch basins in a rush to prepare them for the next downpour. Some residents shoveled gunk from their homes.

“A lot of the debris basins are near capacity. We haven’t had enough time … to clean them out,” said Gary H. Boze, a spokesman for the county Department of Public Works.

“We’re working around the clock to provide whatever capacity we can,” he said.

Crews concentrated on removing large debris that could clog drains and cause overflows and on scraping the ooze off roads in high-risk communities so people can flee and rescuers can get in during an emergency, Boze said.

The debris was being dumped at a wilderness site in the San Gabriel Mountains that already holds tons of debris from previous storms.

Around two dozen debris basins in the fire-scarred areas cannot be cleared before the storm hits and some are at full capacity, Boze said. He said all the basins were being monitored so residents will have early warning if problems develop.

Meanwhile, the mayor of La Canada Flintridge and some homeowners blamed the U.S. Forest Service for the mudslides, accusing the agency of being tardy in responding to last summer’s wildfire that eventually burned 250 square miles of forestland above the communities.

“The federal government is not taking responsibility for the flow of mud that came from its property,” Mayor Laura Olhasso said Sunday. “They say there’s nothing they can do to keep it from flowing, then they need to help clean it up. They need to be responsible property owners.”

U.S. Forest Service representatives did not immediately comment on her remarks Monday.

Katherine Markgraf’s garage collapsed and her car wound up in a neighbor’s side yard, even though her family had sandbagged and taken other precautions.

“We get flood insurance, we did all the right things,” she told KCAL-TV. “Had the forestry service fought the fire the way they were supposed to, we wouldn’t be dealing with this.”

However, other residents said they accepted the risk of living in a steep and hilly area.

“You can’t blame everything on anyone else,” Jeff Schroeder told KCAL-TV as he paused from shoveling mud out of his driveway. “You’ve got to pick your house in the right spot, you know?”

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