Storm Triggers Mudslides in Green Valley


The year's first rainstorm sent a river of loosened earth down the hillsides of a small rural community northeast of Santa Clarita on Saturday, washing out sections of road and trapping at least 12 vehicles in a sea of mud.

It was the third time in seven months that Green Valley has suffered major damage to its hillsides. In June and August of last year, fire struck the bucolic town of 1,200, stripping the hillsides of protective vegetation and precipitating Saturday's mudslide.

"We watched the fire ravage our hills, and now we see the rain washing our mountain away," said resident Sharon Coleman, 32. "We just have so much burned area that the whole town is in jeopardy. My heart sinks."

While the storm caused havoc in the far reaches of the county, minor accidents and fires plagued police and firefighters throughout the day in the San Fernando Valley.

The California Highway Patrol closed nearly three miles of San Francisquito Canyon Road between Lake Elizabeth and Spunky Canyon roads so bulldozers could shave nearly four feet of dirt and debris from roadways. By early morning at least 12 vehicles had been trapped in the mud.

Fire crews issued sandbags to residents, and a crew of inmates from a nearby detention camp helped firefighters scrape dirt from roads, said Capt. Jim Billesbach of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

As rain continued to fall into the evening, residents braced for more mudslides.

"We're in for the worst," Coleman said. "It's coming down now like it did this morning. Now I'm scared."

A National Weather Service spokesman predicted more showers today as the storm front moves through the area, and another storm was expected to drop more rain by midweek. Saturday's storm-slicked roads caused scores of accidents all over the Valley.

A La Canada Flintridge man died of head injuries after his motorcycle skidded on Foothill Boulevard in Tujunga and hit a metal pole, said Los Angeles Police Officer Robert Kalstrom.

Neil Edward Donaghy, 21, was pronounced dead at the scene about 1:30 a.m. Witnesses said Donaghy had been driving more than 75 m.p.h. when the accident happened.

"It's been hectic. There's been a lot of accidents and slides," said California Highway Patrol Officer Bob Bruce.

In Green Valley, few residents bothered to protect their houses with sandbags because they didn't think the first winter rains would do so much damage, said Bob Porter, 42, a part-time firefighter.

U.S. Forest Service workers planted ground cover, mapped out potential flood areas and cut fire lines around Green Valley late last year to help residents prevent a slide. In all, the fire blackened about 2,750 acres, Porter said.

Some residents, such as 67-year-old Nancy Nicodemus, who has lived in Green Valley since 1964, said she didn't put sandbags around her house because she didn't believe the rain would bring the mountain down. The mud was knee-high Saturday along a chain-link fence surrounding her house in the 15400 block of Calle Maleza.

Billesbach said grass had been sown along hillsides burned by the brush fires but didn't grow deep enough to stop erosion. He estimated that two inches of rain had fallen in the area since late Friday evening.

Some, such as Coleman, had planted ground cover around their property to stabilize the hillside. Her home was almost untouched by the mudslides. Still, Coleman said, she expects the town's warning signal--an air-raid siren--to go off again soon.

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