LA-area foothills under mudslide threat

LA-area foothills under mudslide threat

10 February 2010

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USA —  LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — A new winter storm washed over the wildfire-scarred foothills north of Los Angeles Tuesday, leaving some residents to flee their homes in baggage-laden cars while others used shovels and buckets to try to hold back the muddy deluge.

Officials issued evacuation orders for 541 homes on the hillsides of La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Acton and two canyons. Several streets in the city of Sierra Madre spent several hours under evacuation orders that were lifted in the evening.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies went door to door, urging people to leave; those who refused signed waivers acknowledging they were aware of the risk.

“I don’t think the danger is that great,” said Del Tucker, a 78-year old retired geology professor who planned to spend the afternoon reading and watching TV with his wife as rains battered his neighborhood. “That doesn’t mean we’re right. We could die.”

Sheriff’s deputies also asked residents to move their vehicles and trash cans away from the streets, where heavy rain took residents and officials by surprise on Saturday by washing away cars, punching holes in houses, filling swimming pools with debris and inundating homes with mud.

The National Weather Service downgraded its flash flood warning for the area to a flash flood watch Tuesday evening, but warned that another half-inch of rain could still hit the region, where up to about an inch had fallen over the course of a day.

“It looks like there are some good thunderstorms in this next wave coming through,” forecaster Stuart Seto said. “That could compound the problems the have already occurred there.”

About 60 to 70 percent of the region’s residents ordered to evacuate had complied, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

“They know what’s at stake,” said sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Furman, who was taking a lap along the mud-crusted streets to clear out stragglers. “They’ve been through this before.”

Lyn Slotky, 62, packed a red suitcase holding a change of clothes and her nervous Labrador into her Honda hatchback. She said she was afraid that the gnarled branches, boulders and bricks embedded in huge banks of mud remaining from the weekend’s downpour would be a hazard as they washed down the street.

Down the sloping street, Maureen Kindred said she was remaining in her home with her son to fight back the mud, as she did over the weekend.

“We literally fought it,” she said, taking a break from shoveling mud from in front of her house before it could block the drain on her porch. “We fought it with buckets and mops and spades and we dug a canal. We did everything we could to keep water from entering the house, and we succeeded.”

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