LA foothill suburbs thigh-deep in mud after slides

Dozens of homes and cars are damaged in a mudslide in La Canada Flintridge.

A home is shown damaged by mudslides and flooding on Ocean View Blvd. in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 6. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Daily News, John McCoy).


A home is shown damaged by mudslides and flooding on Ocean View Blvd. in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 6. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Daily News, John McCoy).

Associated Press, Writer

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. (AP) — Steve Brown woke to find his street a muddy river.

Roused by the pounding of rain, he got up before dawn and walked to the window and looked out.

“It was like Niagara Falls,” said the 52-year-old Brown, who lives in La Canada Flintridge, the Los Angeles County foothill community where 43 homes were damaged by raging mud and debris in a pre-dawn storm. “I could see cars flowing down the street.”

The area was stripped by a huge summer wildfire and ripe for destructive debris flows, and on Saturday it finally saw them, as water and mud overflowed basins and ran into streets, taking furniture, cars and concrete barriers with it.

Brown’s phone rang soon after he woke, and he learned that his 64-year-old neighbor Pat Anderson was trapped on the second floor of her house. He was called because rescue vehicles couldn’t get there.

Brown made his way the quarter-mile to Anderson’s house on a cul-de-sac under an overflowed debris basin at the center of the mess and had to wade through thigh-deep mud on the first floor to get to the second.

“There were logs floating in her living room,” Brown said.

Brown was able to get Anderson out unharmed, and no injuries were reported anywhere in the area despite the widespread damage.

Residents and emergency responders were caught off guard by the unpredicted ferocity of the storm.

“Nobody knew it was going to be this bad,” said Anderson’s daughter Katherine Markgraf. “Last time, they started warning us in time to prepare for it.”

Some residents complained they were not told to get out until the brunt of the damage was done — unlike during heavy rains last month when officials repeatedly warned foothill communities to be on alert.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael Freeman said by the time officials saw how serious the storm was, it was too late to order evacuations for some and it was determined that it would be safer for them to take shelter in their homes.

“We are operating just like everyone else, based on weather predictions,” Freeman said.

About 70 homes remained under evacuation orders early Sunday.

About 800 homes across LA County were evacuated for parts of Saturday, but most were allowed to return home as another round of expected rains proved tame and moved on quickly. Flash flood warnings for foothill areas also were called off.

Rainfall totals topped 4 inches in a 24 hour period in some areas, the National Weather Service said. Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Matt Levesque said forecasters and county and city officials did not anticipate the magnitude of the slow-moving storm.

“It was more rain than anyone thought, and more intense too, Levesque said. “And it stalled there over the hillsides.”

Several residents said they woke up around 4 a.m. to the sound of crashing and rain pounding on their rooftops.

“It was like thunder,” said Dave Becica, whose house was undamaged. “I said, I hope that’s not the mountain coming down. It was the mountain.”

Family photographs, toys, furniture items and other items were dotted throughout the debris that gushed into yards and streets.

Crews used bulldozers and other heavy equipment to clear masses of mud and rocks that blocked suburban streets and intersections.

Twelve homes had major damage, 31 others received minor or moderate damage and 25 cars were damaged, County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said. Nine of the homes were declared uninhabitable.

At least 30 of the damaged homes were on Ocean View Boulevard in Pickens Canyon.

“It was devastated, I was really, really shocked by what I had seen,” Antonovich said after touring the damaged areas. “It’s as if you were at Universal Studios on the tour seeing a war zone area.”

Associated Press Writer Christopher Weber contributed to this report.

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