Homeowners in mud-ravaged foothill towns north of Los Angeles packed their cars and left Tuesday as evacuation orders took hold and a new winter storm arrived.
Officials issued evacuation orders for 541 homes on the hillsides of La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Acton and two canyons. Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies went door to door, urging people to leave; those who refused signed waivers acknowledging they were aware of the risk.
Sheriff's deputies also asked residents to move their vehicles and trash cans away from the streets, where heavy rain on Saturday caused water and rocks to roar through, smashing cars and concrete barriers together.
As heavy rain began to fall, the National Weather Service upgraded its previous flash flood watch to a flash flood warning. The warning continued until 5 p.m. for steep slopes of the Angeles National Forest northeast of Los Angeles that were scorched by wildfires last summer and in 2008.
The weather service said as much as a third of an inch of rain per hour was falling and thunderstorms and small hail had been spotted in and around La Canada Flintridge in the afternoon.
Many people heeded the evacuation warning, lugging clothing and backpacks to cars that rolled down roads already crusted with the remains of a weekend mudslide that damaged 43 homes.
About 60 to 70 percent had complied with the evacuation order, sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
"People, when they see what happened last Saturday, they're ready to move," he said.
"They know what's at stake," said sheriff's Sgt. Bob Furman, who was taking a lap along the mud-crusted streets to clear out stragglers. "They've been through this before."
Lyn Slotky, 62, packed a red suitcase holding a change of clothes and her nervous Labrador into her Honda hatchback.
"I'm just waiting for it to start to drizzle a little bit. Then I'm out of here," she said.
She wanted to be gone before new rain washed away huge banks of mud that have lined the streets from last weekend's downpour.
Slotky said she was afraid that the gnarled branches, boulders and bricks embedded in the mud would be a hazard as they washed down the street.
She and her husband slept through the last flow, which swept covered her mailbox and those of her neighbors.
Maureen Kindred said she was remaining in her home with her son.
'Rather stay here and fight'
"I'm not afraid, I just don't want to have to clean up everything. I'd rather stay here and fight it," she said.
Kindred said if she had not been home last weekend, her home would have been a muddy wreck like her neighbors'.
"We literally fought it," she said of the oozing mud and water. "We fought it with buckets and mops and spades and we dug a canal. We did everything we could to keep water from entering the house, and we succeeded."
Del Tucker, 78, and his 77-year-old wife Francis chose to remain in their home on a sloping street.
"I don't think the danger is that great or, obviously, we'd leave," said Tucker, a retired geology professor. "That doesn't mean we're right. We could die."
Tucker said last weekend's flooding was the worst he had seen since moving to La Canada Flintridge in 1962. The mud washed onto his patio and crept under his garage door.
Tucker said he expected Tuesday's storm to be milder and to cause fewer problems.
The National Weather Service said there was a chance of thunderstorms that could dump more than 2 inches of rain in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, where debris basins overflowed and damaged homes over the weekend. The basins are designed to keep mud and boulders away from homes near the burn areas.
About 300 trucks are being used to clear the debris channels. The process usually takes few weeks and some of the basins were nearly filled by a series of back-to-back storms only a couple of weeks ago, said Bob Spencer, a spokesman for the county Department of Public Works.
"We did not get them back to full capacity. It's just impossible," Spencer said. "We were working 24-7 to clean them."
In addition, spotters are positioned at many of the foothill basins to warn of problems, as well as at other locations that historically have had flooding problems, including Malibu.
"This is a thankless task," Spencer said of the monitoring. "These guys actually stay up there once a rain event is forecast. They're up there in the dark, standing in a debris basin armed with a radio."
The tons of debris are being moved to three foothill sediment basins that the county uses as debris landfills. Spencer said those basins are not located in any environmentally area and can handle years of debris.
"They're canyons, basically, is what they are, that we're filling with material," he said.