Southern California

Mud-Besieged Community Counting on K-Rail Protection Before Next Storm

The mobile home of a Newhall man survived the mud flow that poured from a ravine and into his community this week, but he knows it's inevitable he'll have to move.

Mike Love has known it since summer, when the nearby Calgrove brush fire denuded the hillsides above Crescent Valley Mobile Estates and increased the risk of flooding and mudflows — more so during an El Niño winter expected to be extra wet.

In response, strategies were developed to protect the community, including installing concrete K-rail barriers to steer mud flows away from homes and toward a creek.

As it turned out, the K-rail was not in place before this week's series of storms, because it would have blocked acccess to two coaches that had yet to be relocated.

"We've been waiting for these two mobile homes to be moved," said Ken Swanson, area engineer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, which has committed itself to installing the K-rail.

One of the homes was transported to another pad Tuesday morning even as the rain was intensifying Tuesday. The other next door is rented by Love, who works for a charitable organization and is no relation to the Beach Boy of the same name. Love said he has not been told how soon the coach will be moved, only that, "It ain't gonna be here.  Gotta go!"

Management of the mobile estates declined to comment. But as soon as the site is opened, the K-rail could be in place in a matter of days, Swanson said. Residents hope that will be before the onset of the next series of storms.

Wednesday's mudflow veered into the south end of the mobile home park at a point where a ravine converges with a canyon. Two drainpipes are intended to carry the ravine's runoff beneath the road crossing into the canyon.

During the storm, a public works crew used a backhoe to remove boulders and other debris coming down the ravine, but the pipes became clogged, and the small basin above the pipes overflowed.

"It overwhelmed us," said John Rice, who had responded to the scene for public works during the storm, and recorded dramatic video with his cellphone camera of the futile effort. "We had to pull out." 

Public safety officials directed the residents of 10 of the park's 80 homesites to evacuate. By midmorning Thursday it was deemed safe enough for them to return.

"God saved our house," said high school senior Isabel Estrada when she returned. "I really didn't think it would be standing this morning."

Since the fire, crews had installed a series of cascading debris traps in the canyon, Swanson said, but did not do so in the narrower and roadless ravine that leads to the drainpipes.

The road that crosses the ravine is used by Southern California Edison for access to electrical transmission line towers in the Newhall Pass. Perhaps most frustrated by the delay installing the K-rail is Brandon Hanson, whose home is across a road from where the drainpipes clogged.

When the flow stopped, his yard was covered with mud to a depth of two feet. Still, he was grateful his coach sits on a high enough foundation that no mud got inside.

"Had there been any more rain than it was, my place wouldn't be here," Hanson said.

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