Waterlogged California At Risk Of Mudslides

Southern California has been pounded by heavy rain. Flooding and potential mudslides are causing big problems for motorists and residents of threatened hillside neighborhoods.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

And Im Audie Cornish.

One question likely on the minds of just about anyone who calls Southern California home. When will the rain end? Some places have seen nearly a year's worth in just the past few days. And this morning came the biggest deluge yet.

Now, motorists are struggling with closed roads and homeowners hoping that the mud and water dont get any worse.

NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE: Southern California notorious sprawl climbs uphill sides and stretches down canyons. These are the areas that are particularly vulnerable in a prolonged downpour.

(Soundbite of traffic report)

Unidentified Man: Northbound 5, right before Broadway, the left lane shutdown all because of flooding, traffic is overall pretty slow coming...

JAFFE: It's almost hard to count how many roads have been shutdown because of flooding and rockslides and downed trees. It stretched from San Diego County in the south to Ventura County in the north. And for some Californians, it's not the pavement under their cars thats a problem. It's the ground under their homes.

Mr. DAVID VANDERVENE: The cul-de-sac behind us actually had a small slide last night.

JAFFE: Says David Vandervene(ph) who lives in Laguna Beach. It's a town in Orange County that rises steeply from the coast. His neighborhood lost 20 homes in a mudslide a few years ago. He's seen this morning that just one was at risk, so far.

Mr. VANDERVENE: And neighbors to the east of us, is right on the edge right now. So their water lines are about ready to snap and I helped the shovel mud off their stairs this morning. But there's not much under the east corner of their house right now.

JAFFE: It's not just mud but rushing water thats hammered this town. This morning, downtown Laguna Beach was under a rushing torrent three feet deep.

Heidi Miller owns a clothing store there. And when the flood subsided, she surveyed the damage.

Ms. HEIDI MILLER (Owner, Clothing Store): Looks like got about two feet of mud inside of it. Stuff that was in the back is now in the front of the store. And if you look at the wall, you can kind of see where the water crept up. So, unfortunately, looks like about half my merchandise is probably gone. And then it's a big cleanup. Big cleanup.

(Soundbite of machinery)

JAFFE: Seventy miles inland, the neighborhood in the town of Highland was invaded by up to four feet of mud. And north in Los Angeles County, the danger of mudslides and debris flows is considered extreme in the communities of La Crescenta and La Canada Flintridge. They're right under the mountains that were incinerated in a massive wildfire last year. More than 200 families were ordered to evacuate.

Mr. BOB SPENCER (Spokesman, Los Angeles County Department of Public Works): Out of the some 230-odd properties that were ordered to evacuate, only about five of those residents actually left.

JAFFE: That's Bob Spencer, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, speaking at an emergency staging area in the foothills. If residents there feel safe so far, he says, it may be because of the system of 28 debris basins that the county has built into the mountains.

Mr. SPENCER: Over the summer we enlarged six of those debris basins. Right now, the debris basins - despite all of this precipitation that we got over the last six days - are only about anywhere from five to 20 percent filled, and thats excellent.

JAFFE: Those basins are strategically placed, says Spencer, but thats no guarantee that the debris will come down in the right place to be caught.

Mr. SPENCER: This is a mountain range. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of little canyons between the hillsides where mud, water or debris could come down at anytime.

JAFFE: If there's any upside to this soggy, destructive mess, it's that the rain will ease the impacts of a three-year drought. The forecast is for sunshine tomorrow but a little more rain on Christmas Day.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.