LOCAL L.A. Now

Azusa family's backyard buried in tons of mud

When the rains first started in Southern California, Ed Heinlein didn't think the damage to his Azusa property would be so bad. Surely, the 65-year-old homeowner thought, his backyard retaining wall, thick as a freeway barrier, would hold back the mud.

But as a precaution, Heinlein and his neighbors wedged plywood and sandbags against the ground-level walls. They took a sledgehammer and pickaxes to a small wall in his front yard to prevent mud from collecting behind it and pressing up against the house's walls.

He evacuated early Friday with five family members, including his infant grandson. He returned Saturday morning to rescue Gizmo, the family cat.

"When we drove up, we knew it was going to be bad," Heinlein said. On Friday, he said, a little mud had been strewn in the street. On Saturday, there was a lot more debris, much of it coming from his own lot.

During about 20 minutes of hard rain Saturday morning, he said, a wave of mud had rolled down the mountain, brimmed over the retaining wall and buried his backyard. The force of the mud bent a metal fence at a 45-degree angle. Only the net and backboard of his 10-foot basketball hoop were visible above the muck.

The back wall of his home seemed stable, he said, but moisture had seeped upward, turning the khaki paint a splotchy brown.

"We've got to find a way to get the one hundred tons of mud out of my backyard," Heinlein said. "We're probably looking at tens of thousands of dollars in damage."

Late Saturday morning, firefighters, engineers and geologists in rubber boots waded uncertainly into the muck, then decided it was too dangerous to do anything before the rains stopped.

Neighbors in the quiet cul-de-sac waited nervously to see if a rainstorm forecast for Saturday afternoon would make the mud any worse. Dennis Sanderson, who lives next to Heinlein, bought a pump in hopes of getting rid of some of the mud in a terrace above his backyard. It didn't work, he said, but might help if it starts to rain harder.

Insurance won't cover the damage to his home, Heinlein said — a risk his family took when moving into the home more than 11 years ago.

"It's a beautiful area," Heinlein said as heavy clouds hugged the rough hills behind him. "But if you're going to live in an area that has these types of mountains and these types of fires, you know what can happen. You plan. You work on it when it comes."

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laura.nelson@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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