Cleanup begins on mud-damaged roads
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.
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.