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Schwarzenegger promises mudslide victims aid

February 6, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Though all evacuation orders are lifted for La Canada Flintridge, there is still massive cleanup to be done.Federal, county and local officials joined Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and toured the destruction the storm left in its wake in La Canada Flintridge.

Schwarzenegger said that it was important to see all of the damage and to see all of the needs in person.

"All people care about is, help us clean our homes, help us with our disaster. Let's find a disposal site, and let's clear this area as quickly as possible," said the governor.

The mayor of La Canada Flintridge is demanding that the federal government needs to take responsibility in its part in the disaster, since all of the debris is coming from the national forest's property.

"I call on the federal government to take responsibility to help our residents pay for cleaning up the mud, not only from the last two days, but the mud that was flowing two weeks ago, and the mud that's going to continue to flow for the next three to five years ," said La Canada Flintridge Mayor Laura Olhasso.

The damage from Saturday's storm was extensive and so is the cleanup. One of the top concerns is trying to find a disposal site for all the mud that has come down. One official guessed Saturday that approximately 30,000 to 40,000 acres of mud came down from the hillsides.

Another concern is cleaning the catch basins.

"We're concentrating on keeping the inlets clear and keeping all of the culverts clear as well so we can get as much debris down the flood control channels as we can," said Bob Spencer of Los Angeles DWP.

La Canada Flintridge was probably hit the hardest by Saturday's mudslides. Now some are getting a chance to return home. But those are the lucky ones. Some families don't have homes to return to.

At least 43 homes were damaged Saturday as mud flowed down hills and into peoples' yards and homes.

Of the 43 damaged homes, 12 suffered major damage and 31 suffered light to moderate damage. Nine homes have been red tagged. In some cases, mud rose as high as 8 feet and nearly buried homes. Protective K-rails and cars were literally swept away by the powerful mud and debris flows. It was reported that around 25 cars were also destroyed from the mudslides.

"I was in complete shock. I never thought I'd see cars and K-rails just washed down like they're matchsticks," described one La Canada Flintridge resident. "It was unbelievable."

The homes at the top of Ocean View Boulevard against the hillside suffered the most severe damage. Concrete K-rails were tossed around by the power of the mud and were unable to protect homes. One home had collapsed, and several homes had massive amounts of mud in the yards.

"Some of the garage doors on some properties blew open, so some of the garages got partially flooded," said a La Canada Flintridge resident.

About 540 residences were evacuated in the foothill areas of La Crescenta, Acton, Altadena and La Canada Flintridge.

While several people had to be rescued from their homes and vehicles, no injuries have been reported.

During a news conference Saturday, L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich blamed the U.S. Forest Service for alleged mistakes made during the first days of the Station fire, saying that if the Forest Service had not let the wildfire spread, the debris flows might have been avoided.

A homeowner, who didn't want to give his name, said his 20-year-old son was sleeping in a room whose exterior walls were hit with the muck.

"It was about 5 a.m. and it was really loud, so I decided to get up," said Jennifer Dickens, who lives across the street. "I saw this wave coming. It was like a waterfall hitting the house."

At least 25 vehicles were damaged after being pushed into each other and moved downhill. One SUV rested on top of a truck, while other vehicles were slammed into homes.

Sherry Sclafani returned home Sunday to survey the damage done to her home of 16 years.

She stood by where her driveway used to be, but it was unrecognizable and completely buried in mud. Mud and rocks rushed down a private road and Sclafani's home took the biggest hit.

"I just kept thinking that someone would come and help us, the fire department or somebody would come and stop the dam that had broken up here, and it just never came," said Sclafani.

"When I left, the front door had blown off, and the water was coming in and I opened the far door and it just came through like a river. I grabbed my kids and we left," Sclafani added.

Jeff Godbold, Sclafani's neighbor, built a retaining wall to protect his house, and it succeeded.

"It's okay for now. It has some damage but not like this, but unless this gets cleared, he's in danger," Godbold said.

Another La Canada Flintridge Peter Lu was up at dawn shoveling mud from his driveway. The mud overwhelmed the storm drain next to his house, flowed over the short fence and pooled below it.

Though the mud looks like it took a toll on his home, Lu said that his driveway and the garage was hit hard, but no debris made its way inside his living space.

The U.S. Geological Survey said 4 and three-quarter inches of rain have fallen in a 20 hour period.

Firefighters used the mud that flowed onto La Canada Flintridge streets to fill more sandbags, hoping they will protect homes if any more mud flows down.

County public works crews are expected to keep busy, using heavy machinery to scoop out catch basins and clear roads, between now and Tuesday when more rain is forecast.

In addition to county workers, volunteers also showed up in force to help those in need.

Volunteers worked to chip away at the mud piled high in front of Karineh Mangassarian's La Canada Flintridge home. In her time of need, people she's never met have come to her rescue.

"Today is a new beginning for me. I know it's hard. I know I have a lot of work to do, but there is hope. When you have hope, amazing things happen," said Mangassarian.

Down the street, her neighbor's home is filled with mud. Instead of patio furniture, the living room sofa is in the pool, forced outdoors by the powerful mudslide. The resident said that she was literally holding on to dear life, first to a fence, then to a tree.

Volunteers from church groups and those just wanting to lend a hand opened their hearts.

Even 88-year-old Eloise Nicholl came to La Canada with a shovel in her hand.

"You can imagine what it will be looking like, but when you actually see it, it looks a little but worse I think," said Nicholl.

Some of the mud has now turned to dust. For residents returning Sunday, it took some time for their eyes to adjust to the devastation before them.

"It was eerie and a little bit scary. I think we're ready to rebuild and help our neighbors," said La Canada Flintridge resident Lyn Slotky.

"It's worse than I thought it'd be when I got up here," said La Canada Flintridge resident Gary Stibal.

"We're lucky. We have a home, and we're staying here tonight," said Stibal. His backyard is filled with 4 to 5 feet of mud and rocks, and water steeped into his master bedroom. Stibal and his wife left just before boulders rolled down Ocean View.

"I bet we made it down the hill within two minutes before the major flow came down," said Stibal.

Another La Canada Resident Steve Brown is thankful that his cleanup job is small compared to the task that awaits his neighbors, but it's still time consuming.

"We had 10 people really working hard for hours today," said Brown. "We thought we'd have it done," he added with a laugh.

Although many residents are devastated about the state of their neighborhood, Brown says it's still Paradise Valley.

"We have our challenge for a few years, but we'll survive," said Brown.

Only residents are allowed Sunday night and through Monday or further notice. Los Angeles police said that deputies are checking IDs at Ocean View Boulevard and Fairhurst Drive to keep out gawkers and would-be looters. Only volunteers and hired hands who have already made arrangements with homeowners will be allowed to help with the cleanup efforts beginning Monday.

Damage to the homes alone is expected to run into the tens of millions of dollars, but public officials have yet to estimate damages or the price of cleanup operations.