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La Canada evacs lifted; Riverwood evacs remain

January 18, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Evac orders were lifted for La Canada homes, but some Tujunga homes were still under mandatory evacution Monday night.Early Monday, officials feared the worst and evacuated 106 residences on Upper Ocean View and its side streets in La Canada Flintridge. These orders were lifted Monday afternoon, and residents were allowed back in their homes.

Eighty-three residences were evacuated in the Tujunga area in the neighborhoods of Riverwood Ranch, Alpine Village, Zachaou Canyon, Haines Canyon and Blanchard Canyon. Shelter is offered at Sunland Park Recreation Center, at 8651 Foothill Blvd. Alpine Village, Zachaou Canyon, Haines Canyon and Blanchard Canyon evacuations were llifted Monday night. The Los Angeles Fire Department and L.A. Public Works were working to secure access for the 20 or so residents in the Riverwood area as well.

In Blanchard Canyon, massive amounts of mud came down off of the hillsides charred by the Station Fire. City Fire said that the amount of mud was about the equivalent of the length of a football field, reaching two to three feet deep.

The heavy rain started to come down around noon Monday. Once the mud started flowing from the heavy downpour, crews brought in bulldozers and front-end skip loaders to try to clear out some of the debris to open up the roadway to make sure the residents could get out.

In one situation, the battalion chief's truck ended up getting stuck in the mud. His vehicle sunk down deep into the thick mud, and they had to bring in an engine to pull out the vehicle.

Authorities issued an evacuation order for the Tujunga region including Blanchard Canyon, as more rain is expected Monday night.

So far, residents are able to get in and out of the areas due to the crews' cleaning efforts. Officials are keeping a very close eye on the hillsides now that they've been saturated with the heavy rain, many fear that more mud could come down throughout the night.

In La Canada Flintridge, even before evacuation orders were issued, resident Steve Brown and his family weren't taking any chances.

"We got mud flowing into our backyard right now," said Steve Brown, a La Canada resident.

Brown and his family didn't wait. Even before the evacuation order was issued, he packed his car and got ready to pull out. When mud started flowing down from a hillside into the yard behind his house, he decided it was time to leave.

"We're leaving. We can't do anything, so it's better to be safe and hope for the best," said Brown.

The decision to pull out or stay is a tough one, but county officials strongly advised residents to comply with evacuation order when they're issued.

"We are begging you to leave when you're ordered," said Deputy Chief Mike Metro of L.A. Fire. "These debris flows can be deadly."

County Public Works officials said that all of its 26 debris basins were in good shape and ready to capture mud, but three hours later, mud and debris topped the basin above Manistee Drive. Officials said that specific basin doesn't meet its worst-case design standards.

"Our debris basins are designed for a major storm on a burned water shed. The fact is, though, we have a couple of our basins that are not designed for what we call our typical design event. Those are the hot spots we are continually monitoring," said Pat DeChellis of Public Works.

The heavy rain has quit for now, but nervous resident know there are more storms on the way.

"I got everything packed. I'm all set to go. The car is unlocked, the key is in the ignition, and I'm out of here if I hear some rumbling coming down the hill," said Gary Stibal, a La Canada Flintridge resident.

Residents and motorists are still advised to be alert to flash flooding and debris flows, which may block roads and culverts.

By mid afternoon Monday, over an inch per hour of rain was falling in the foothills. In a news conference Monday morning, L.A. County Public Works officials said that their 26 debris basins were up to the task, but some were larger than others, and Monday's storm proved to be more potent than expected.

Angeles Forest Highway, Big Tujunga and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon roads are closed until the storm passes.

In other areas in the Los Angeles area, there were a number of rain related incidents on the road.

The westbound lanes of the 101 Freeway were shut down to one lane Monday morning from heavy flooding, creating a huge bottleneck.

In Woodland Hills, a tree came crashing down and narrowly missed a vehicle on Providence and Topanga Canyon Boulevard when very strong winds were tearing through that neighborhood.

Just a few blocks away, several eucalyptus trees came crashing down, blocking streets. Residents described the sounds as being similar to a hurricane.