el nino3Southland gets ready for floods, mudslides and lightning strikes from El Niño storms

By Steve Scauzillo » steve.scauzillo@langnews.com » @stevscaz on Twitter

Disaster expert Kenneth Kondo steered his pickup truck through the flood-damaged Leona Valley on Wednesday, collecting damage-assessment forms from residents three weeks after an El Niño storm dumped water and mud onto hundreds of cars on Interstate 5 and Highways 58 and 138, as well as some homes. ¶ The high desert communities north of Los Angeles went from drought to 3.38 inches of rain in one hour, the National Weather Service reported, strong evidence of what the predicted El Niño could bring to more populated parts of Southern California this winter. “At one house, the father was not home. The children used every resource to make sure the water wouldn’t get into

their home: They used towels, shirts, clothes — whatever they could do,” said Kondo of the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management.

Keeping the water out is the underlying message from disaster preparedness managers. The other being get ready to flee. Experts from the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are warning Southern Californians to expec t more of the t y pe of stor ms that hit the Antelope Valley on Oct. 15. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s prediction of a 95 percent chance that El Niño will continue through the Northern

Hemisphere and then gradually weaken in the spring is driving calls to expect wet weather similar to the 1997-1998 El Niño winter, which caused 17 storm-related deaths and $550 million in damage across the state.

El Niño, a warming of the Pacific Ocean, is causing the jet stream to direct storms into Southern California. During the past four years of drought, a ridge of pressure bumped Pacific storms away from Southern California, but evidence shows the ridge is weakening.

The storms during an El Niño may or may not bring record amounts of rain and snow. L.A. County’s “El Niño 2015-2016” report states: “Most weather experts acknowledge the weather phenomenon is as temperamental as a toddler.”

El Niño storms are unpredictable. That can mean lightning strikes and high tides in the beach areas, flash floods in the high desert and mudflows in communities down stream of burn areas. It could mean normal amounts of rainfall.

Along the coast, residents have seen freak lightning storms as recent as Tuesday that resulted in beach closures from Malibu to Torrance. No one was hurt.

The county has taken such precautions ever since July 2014, when 20-yearold Nick Fagnano of Los Angeles was struck by a bolt of lightning at Venice Beach and died, explained Carol Baker, spokeswoman with the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors. Eight others were taken to the hospital that day, saying they felt an electric shock travel from their feet to their heads, some while swimming in the ocean.

“We never experienced that kind of episode on the beaches before,” Baker said.

Flooding can occur in coastal areas if an intense rainstorm occurs simultaneously with a high tide, a real possibility this winter.

“That increases the chances of wave inundation and coastal flooding,” she said.

Last week, the county built 16 sand berms, each 12 to 15 feet tall, to protect structures and parking lots. Free sandbags are available to the public at Zuma Beach, Will Rogers Beach, Venice Beach, Dockweiler Beach, Manhattan Beach and Torrance Beach, she said.

High winds are also predicted. In the 1982-1983 El Niño, a tornado ripped off part of the roof of the Los Angeles Convention Center and winds and waves damaged the Santa Monica Pier.

A great amount of precaution, however, is directed at neighborhoods located near wildfire sites. Kondo said recent flood damage in the Leona Valley was concentrated where the Powerhouse fire of 2013 burned through 30,000 acres.

Mountain communities surrounding this summer’s massive Lake fire could be more at risk of flooding. These include: Forest Falls, Mount San Gorgonio and Big Bear Lake.

In the foothills of Azusa and Glendora near where the Colby fire of January 2014 damaged eight structures, destroyed 15, including four homes, and burned through 1,952 acres of scrub and brush, thousands of residents remain on high alert. Concern about debris flows are evident along Rainbow Drive and Easley Canyon in Glendora, where homeowners have built plywood barriers in an attempt to keep away water and mud. Some have built wooden gates that stretch across driveways and attach to cityplaced K-rails. “There is no stabilization of the soil yet. We still have a huge amount of loose soil all along the foothills,” said Ann Croissant, president and founder of the Glendora Conservancy and San Gabriel Mountains Regional Conservancy, a botanist with expertise in soil geology. She said full recovery will take 20 years.

Ed Heinlein’s house in the Azusa foothills — adjacent to burned out canyons — has been hit with walls of mud four times since the Colby fire, the most recent event on Oct. 19 after a short but intense rain shower, he said. Each time, private contractors have scooped out mud and saved the house. Two barriers, including a wall of reinforced steel and concrete, plus 8-by-8 plywood planks nailed to his home, have not made him feel safe from the coming El Niño storms.

“My wife, my daughter and my grandson are leaving. They are not going to come back,” he said, saying they are in the process of moving into a relative’s home in Vacaville, near Sacramento, not near any hillsides. Heinlein will stay put. If a storm hits and the mud starts to flow, he’ll drive away and watch what happens on closed circuit TV.

“I’m telling people if you live in the mountains, at the first sign of rain you need to leave,” Heinlein said. “Your car should be ready to go.”

Heinlein’s advice is not that different from that given by others in the know.

People should have an emergency kit filled with a radio, food, water and blankets. All documents, such as the deed to your house, or a will, should be photographed and stored in the cloud, say preparedness experts.

Homeowners should buy flood insurance. Less than 10 percent of Californians have it, according to the California Department of Insurance. Usually, homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage, said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

“All of us have agreed there is a high risk of flooding (according to the NOAA forecast),” Jones said in an interview Thursday. “Water can cause tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage.”

Homeowners can buy f lood insurance from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, he said. The program is subsidized and offers low-cost policies. Any insurance bought today will take at least 30 days to kick in, he said.

To prevent flooding, Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Works has inspected 481 miles of concrete channels; 82,000 catch basins and 172 debris basins have been cleaned out, according to Gail Farber, director of public works. Storm drains have been enlarged to capture more water in La Cañada Flintridge, Quartz Hill and Long Beach, she added.

The San Bernardino County Department of Public Works has advised the homeless living in culvert crossings to relocate. The county has stockpiled 200,000 sandbags in anticipation of severe winter rains, according to a statement from Felisa Cardona, public information officer. Public meetings will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Yucca Valley Community Center, 57090 Twentynine Palms Highway in Yucca Valley and at the same time Thursday at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center in Rancho Cucamonga; 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Peck Park Recreation Center, 560 N. Western Ave., San Pedro; 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at Granada Hills Recreation Center, 16730 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills.

The American Red Cross has bolstered training of volunteers in anticipation of more calls for temporary shelters this winter.

The agency opened a shelter in Palmdale in mid-October for people displaced by the storm and it is prepared to open more in Southern California in the coming months if needed, said Guillermo Sanchez, preparedness manager for the American Red Cross.

“Get prepared now,” Sanchez said. “Don’t wait for the flood to happen.”

A wooden barrier is placed in front of a home in the 1000block of North Loraine Avenue next to the Colby Trail in the hills of Glendora.

WATCHARA PHOMICINDA — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Work crews clean up mudflows and debris after a storm in Glendora in December. Residents in the area are on high alert for debris flows this winter.

STAFF FILE PHOTOS

Residents in the foothills of Glendora are taking precautions by setting up sandbags ahead of expected storms.

WATCHARA PHOMICINDA — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Large sand berms have been built along Playa del Rey and Dockweiler beaches in preparation for El Niño storms.

BRAD GRAVERSON — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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