Cleanup be­gins on mud-dam­aged roads

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY AMANDA LEE MY­ERS

los an­ge­les — Home­own­ers in north­ern Los An­ge­les County com­mu­ni­ties were spend­ing their Satur­day dig­ging mud out of their houses as crews con­tin­ued to clear tons of dirt that clogged road­ways and buried hun­dreds of cars.

The cleanup fol­lows thun­der­storms that un­leashed flash flood­ing Thurs­day, dam­ag­ing dozens of homes and trap­ping hun­dreds of cars on high­ways and roads. No in­juries were re­ported.

Ker­jon Lee, a spokesman for Los An­ge­les County Pub­lic Works, said 50 field per­son­nel and more than 30 pieces of heavy equip­ment were on the ground in the small moun­tain com­mu­ni­ties of El­iz­a­beth Lake and Lake Hughes in Leona Val­ley, north of Los An­ge­les.

He said in that area alone, crews need to clear out 20,000 dump trucks-worth of dirt, which could take months. The dirt even­tu­ally will be used to back­fill eroded canyons.

Mean­while, Lee said, at least one of the homes in the area is con­sid­ered a to­tal loss af­ter flood­ing ripped it from its foundation. Crews were as­sess­ing homes in the area, and Lee said the num­ber of those de­stroyed could rise.

Gary and Gina Har­tle, who own a 70-acre horse ranch in Lake Hughes, said it will take a lot of work to re­store their prop­erty and that they have no idea how long it will take.

“Our prop­erty is 75 per­cent dev­as­tated,” Gina Har­tle, 54, said Satur­day as she sur­veyed the dam­age. “We can’t ac­cess our homes too well right now be­cause every­thing is washed out.”

Still, she said, the cou­ple feel lucky. Their preg­nant daugh­ter was at home dur­ing the storm and wasn’t sure she was go­ing to sur­vive.

“She was scared. She knew she had to get mov­ing be­cause she felt she was on an is­land and the wa­ter was get­ting higher and higher,” Har­tle said. “The wa­ter was up to her hips, and she had to es­cape for her life and her un­born child’s life.”

Har­tle said her daugh­ter made it to a neigh­bor’s home on foot.

Twenty miles east in the Mo­jave Desert city of Lan­caster, Jen­nifer Dun­na­gan and Rochelle Price wiped away tears as they as­sessed the dam­age to their home Fri­day.

About four feet of wa­ter and mud got in­side dur­ing the storm, de­stroyed a back­yard spa and gazebo, and en­tombed mul­ti­ple cars in dirt and mud, in­clud­ing a Ford Model T and a replica of Her­bie the Love Bug car, the An­te­lope Val­ley Press re­ported.

Dun­na­gan told the news­pa­per that she has flood in­sur­ance but that many of her neigh­bors were not as for­tu­nate. “All of th­ese guys have been told they have not been cov­ered,” she said.

Los An­ge­les County Su­per­vi­sor Michael D. Antonovich said in a state­ment that he will ask the Board of Su­per­vi­sors to ap­prove declar­ing a lo­cal emer­gency for com­mu­ni­ties in the Leona Val­ley, Quartz Hill and sur­round­ing ar­eas. If ap­proved as ex­pected dur­ing the board’s meet­ing Tues­day, the sta­tus will free up state or fed­eral resources to sup­port re­cov­ery ef­forts.

The thun­der­storms were pow­ered by a low-pres­sure sys­tem pulling in mois­ture from the south. As much as 1.45 inches of rain fell in a brief span of time near where the most in­tense flood­ing oc­curred.

The storms un­leashed flash flood­ing and de­bris flows along State Route 58, In­ter­state 5 and through­out the area. Those who wit­nessed the worst of the flood­ing de­scribed it as ter­ri­fy­ing.

“It was a rag­ing river of mud,” said Rhonda Flo­res, 51, who was in her car when the flood­ing over­took Route 58. “I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing like it, ever.”

She and hun­dreds of oth­ers on the road­way at the time were res­cued about 10 hours later and spent the night at shel­ters.

Sgt. Mario Lopez, a spokesman for the Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol, said it will take days to re­open Route 58, a mile of which is choked with mud up to six feet deep. About 200 cars and semitrucks were trapped in the now hard­ened mud.

Hun­dreds of cars also were stuck on I-5, a ma­jor artery, but those ve­hi­cles were cleared, and the free­way re­opened late Fri­day.

PHO­TOS BY FRANCINE ORR/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

ABOVE: Bill Beaury with Golden Em­pire Tow­ing stands near a truck that is be­ing lifted out of the mud on State Route 58 in Cal­i­for­nia. LEFT: Trucks re­move dirt from a nearby high­way. Ker­jon Lee, a spokesman for Los An­ge­les County Pub­lic Works, said crews need to clear out 20,000 dump trucks-worth of dirt, which could take months. The cleanup fol­lows thun­der­storms that un­leashed flash flood­ing Thurs­day, dam­ag­ing dozens of homes and trap­ping hun­dreds of cars on high­ways and roads. Some were stuck on In­ter­state 5, but the free­way re­opened Fri­day.

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