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Evacuees begin to return to mud-ridden homes

Thigh-deep mud around houses in L.A. areas

Posted: February 7, 2010 9:44 p.m.
Updated: February 8, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Newhall Resident Ginal Barnett and her dog, Homer, survey their backyard, where a neighbor's oak tree fell due to recent rains. The tree damaged a fence but missed her home. National Weather Service forecasters say we've seen the last of the latest storm that damaged homes in La Canada Flintridge and prompted evacuation advisories for Acton. Mor...

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LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE (AP) — Residents evacuated from foothill communities deluged by weekend mudslides north of Los Angeles were allowed to return home Sunday as crews moved debris and started clearing catch basins in anticipation of more rain later in the week.

The final evacuation order was lifted for about 70 homes in the Paradise Valley area of La Canada Flintridge, said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Guillermina Saldana. Only residents with valid identification were allowed back into the neighborhood that was choked with a thick layer of mud and debris during a pummeling rain early Saturday.

Forty-three homes in the La Canada Flintridge area were damaged and 500 more evacuated Saturday after mud and water overflowed basins and surged into streets, taking furniture, cars and concrete barriers with it. Nine houses were declared unsafe to enter. About 25 vehicles were damaged.

“In my 20 years of fire service, this is the first time I’ve seen this much devastation caused by a weather system,” Los Angeles County Fire Battalion Chief Mike Brown said while walking past suburban homes with thigh-deep mud in their yards.

Los Angeles County public works crews used bulldozers and other heavy machinery to move boulders, scoop out catch basins and clear roads.

“That series of storms two weeks ago, we took about 300,000 cubic yards of material out of our debris basins,” L.A. County Department of Public Works spokesman Bob Spencer said. “This is going to be about the same.”

Spencer said the still-soupy mud in the basins was incredibly difficult to remove the day after a storm, and would take weeks to clear. More rain is forecast to arrive Tuesday.

The mayor of La Canada Flintridge, Laura Olhasso, said Sunday that the U.S. Forest Service should pay to help remove the mud and debris that came down the mountains from federal land denuded by wildfires.

“The federal government is not taking responsibility for the flow of mud that came from its property,” Olhassa said. “They say there’s nothing they can do to keep it from flowing, then they need to help clean it up. They need to be responsible property owners.”

Olhasso said the city has received “no assurances” of help from federal authorities.

“This is potentially a threat for the next three to five years, which is how long they say it could be before the vegetation grows back,” she said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the area Sunday, stopping to talk to reporters in front of a house where flowing mud left a mark on the wall at least 5 feet above the ground.

Schwarzenegger hugged a tearful resident whose voice broke as she told him her entire first floor was inundated with at least 2 feet of mud. Karineh Mangassarian told the governor she wanted crews to start digging her house out immediately.

“I want to save my house, but by the time the city gets here it will be too late,” Mangassarian said outside her home, where mud reached up to the mailbox.

Schwarzenegger said the three county sites set aside for mud disposal might not be enough.

“They need to clean up this area as quickly as possible from the mud. They need permits for a fourth dumping site, disposal site, which have to come from the federal government and the state,” the governor said. “We all have to work together to help the people whose homes were damaged.”

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