After Rains, Calif. Residents Face Mudslide Threat

Drought-plagued southern California has received nearly a year's worth of rain in a week after heavy winter storms pounded the region. The worst is over, but there's a lingering danger that mudslides could devastate neighborhoods near the areas burned in last fall's wildfires.

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

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Here in Southern California we've gotten about a year's worth of rain just this week, plus the storms have brought tornados, heavy snow and mudslides. And it's not over yet, as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE: The only thing predictable about the series of storms this week is that they'd be bad in different ways in different places. There were tornados north of L.A. To the south along the coast, there were water spouts. Mountain roads have been closed due to heavy snow. More than 1,000 households in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains were ordered to evacuate because of the possibility of mudslides. And this afternoon, hail pounded down on NPR West. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said today that states of emergency had been declared for six counties.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (California): We'll do everything that we can in a joint effort in order to help the people, to protect the properties and to protect lives. That's the bottom line here.

JAFFE: Authorities have now lifted evacuation orders for almost all L.A. County foothill residents. As it turned out, only about half actually complied with the orders. That may have been partly due to evacuation fatigue. These same people had to get out last fall during the massive station fire that incinerated the mountains above their homes. One couple told Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that they were prepared to leave quickly if conditions deteriorated.

Mayor ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (Los Angeles): They had their car on and they were ready to leave, they said. But once that mudslide or the water breaks, their car is not going to be able to move fast enough, nor are they.

JAFFE: The foothill communities appeared to have dodged a bullet, says Sue Cannon, a mudslide expert with the United States Geological Service.

Ms. SUE CANNON (Mudslide Expert, United States Geological Service): Especially on Wednesday, the storm for Wednesday was forecast to be the big one. And we watched it move in on the radar and it sort of split and went around the burned area.

JAFFE: Another reason that the foothill stayed safe was because of a system of basins put in across the mountains back in the 1930s. Cannon says they filled up with stuff that otherwise might have been coursing through street and homes.

Ms. CANNON: Boulders, trees, tree trunks.

JAFFE: But the winter has a long way to go. L.A. County Sheriff's Department Chief Neal Tyler says people who live below the burn area shouldn't get complacent.

Chief NEAL TYLER (L.A. County Sheriff's Department): My message to anybody who feels that merely because they didn't see a massive disaster this time means they don't need to leave next time is that it's very shortsighted and dangerous.

JAFFE: This week's storms caused no end of worry and complaint, but not for everyone.

Mr. DAVID FREEMAN (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power): This - like mana from heaven.

JAFFE: Says David Freeman, acting head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. California is been in a drought, but this week's storms only brought L.A.'s rainfall up to about average. So, Freeman isn't celebrating.

Mr. FREEMAN: No matter how much it rains and how much it snows, we are still in a tight water situation.

JAFFE: After this week though, it's hard to imagine that Los Angeles could be short of water.

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.