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Evacuated residents return to foothill homes

February 10, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Foothill residents returned home Wednesday to continue the daunting task of cleaning up the massive damage from the weekend's mudslides. All mandatory evacuations were canceled for residents in La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta and Acton below the Station Fire burn area on Wednesday morning. There have been no major mud or debris flows from the latest round of rain.

Evacuations orders had been issued for more than 500 homes in portions of Acton, Soledad Canyon, Aliso Canyon, La Crescenta and La Canada Flintridge.

On Ocean View Boulevard, deputies were checking IDs and letting only residents up to the foothills. It was a tense 24 hours in La Canada Flintridge, as crews worked around the clock to clean debris left on the ground from Saturday's mudslide, but Tuesday's storm was nothing compared Saturday.

"We only got a quarter-inch of rain, maybe 10 minutes of downpour and light rain after that for a little while," said Dave McLaughlin, a La Canada Flintridge resident who did not evacuate.

Crews are still working on emptying debris basins and cleaning neighborhoods on Wednesday, as residents focus on rebuilding their homes.

While residents worked to clean their homes, county crews installed more K-rails to hold back any future floods after Saturday's storm knocked them aside. Now they're firmly anchored to the roadway, braced against the walls and chained to trees to keep them from sliding.

Newt Russell and his wife returned home on Wednesday morning to start cleaning up.

"We got a crew coming up today," he said. "All the dirt that came down this whole driveway was filled, about 3 or 4 feet, and so we're just digging out."

Alongside residents, volunteers are showing up to help.

Henry Laguna lost his home at the corner of Manistee Drive and Ocean View Boulevard to the flood. He needs to clear out the garage to store recovered household items and cannot believe strangers are showing up to help.

"This type of experience makes you realize how beautiful human beings are because I've been having calls and help from people that you would never expect," said Laguna.

Mark James, a news photographer, used a day off to lend a hand.

"I know the people next door, they're house has been red tagged and they're waiting for the insurance guy to come so I can help them. But this guy, he said 'Come over and help Henry. His house is red tagged.' So we're digging out the garage," said James.

A top priority during the cleanup was the Mullally Debris Basin, which was the root cause of Saturday's flood. The destroyed homes are still on display, and on Wednesday, crews continued clearing out the basin to prevent another massive mudslide and protect homes.

There may not be anymore storms this week, but after losing his kitchen and family room under 3 feet of mud, McLaughlin knows this is just the beginning.

"It's El Nino year. This is going to keep happening over and over again. At least now we know how the water flows, so we can kind of deal with it," he said.

Homeowners are still tallying up the damage totals from Saturday's mud event that destroyed nine homes. The cleanup will likely continue for the next few weeks and months.

In a news conference held by county officials Tuesday afternoon, authorities estimated approximately $11 million as the total bill for cleaning up the massive damage the winter storms left behind.

Laguna says after the Station Fire he bought flood insurance and hopes it covers his losses. His next door neighbor, Pat Anderson, also bought flood insurance, but says she'd like to send the bill to the U.S. Forest Service.

"Well they made some bad choices," said Anderson. "They wouldn't let L.A. County Fire take over when they should have and when you have an El Nino year that's like throwing a match in the gas. Boom. And here we are, digging out federal mud."

The head of L.A. County Department of Public Works said the catch basins collected 90,000 cubic yards of mud and debris.