February 7, 2010 in Nation/World

Los Angeles foothills ravaged by mudslide

Hundreds evacuate; vehicles swept away
Thomas Watkins Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

A house is filled by mud after a slide in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., on Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

LA CANADA FLINT- RIDGE, Calif. – Thunderous mudslides damaged dozens of homes, swept away cars and pushed furniture into the streets of the foothills north of Los Angeles on Saturday as intense winter rain poured down mountains denuded by a summer wildfire.

No injuries were reported but residents and emergency responders were caught off guard by the unexpected ferocity of the storm, which damaged more than 40 homes and dozens of vehicles.

Five hundred homes were eventually evacuated at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains after heavy rains overflowed debris basins, carried away cement barricades and filled houses with mud and rocks.

Some residents complained they were not told to get out until the brunt of the damage was done – unlike during heavy rains last month when officials repeatedly warned foothill communities to be on alert.

“Nobody knew it was going to be this bad,” said Katherine Markgraf, whose mother’s house was filled with more than 2 feet of mud, debris and tangled tree roots. “Last time, they started warning us in time to prepare for it.”

The storm’s payload came between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Markgraf said she only got an alert around 10:30 a.m.

Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Matt Levesque said forecasters and county and city officials did not anticipate the magnitude of the slow-moving storm.

“If we had known there would have been this much rain we would have evacuated,” Levesque said. “It was more rain than anyone thought, and more intense too. And it stalled there over the hillsides.”

Rainfall totals topped 4 inches in a 24-hour period in some areas, the National Weather Service said.

By midmorning, the rain had tapered off, but forecasters said another storm system was expected later Saturday.

The evacuations were ordered in foothill areas of Sierra Madre, La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta and some parts of Acton.

Evacuation centers were set up at La Canada High School and at a recreation center in Sierra Madre. The Red Cross was working to establish other locations to shelter displaced residents.

A heavy downpour at sunrise followed a steady overnight rain of nearly 2 inches in a mountainous 250-square-mile scarred by wildfires last summer. The National Weather Service warned of floods likely in foothill areas of Santa Anita, Sierra Madre, Arcadia and Monrovia. A foot or more of snow was possible at elevations of 5,000 feet or more.

Widespread flooding and downed trees tied up traffic and caused accidents across Los Angeles County.

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