Storm-Battered County Braces for More Showers : Weather: A flash-flood watch is in effect through this morning. Heavy downpours predicted and mudslides are feared.
Steady rain showers continued to swell creeks and saturate the soggy ground across Ventura County on Monday, as local officials braced for another fast-moving storm that threatened heavy downpours, local flooding and possible mudslides.
The National Weather Service issued a flash-flood watch for the county through this morning and warned of potential flooding in streets and streams through this afternoon.
Meteorologists forecast up to two or three inches along the coast and four inches in the mountains. The heavy rainfall, predicted to taper off to showers by midday today, comes at a time when the ground is already soaked from the previous week of rain.
“We are looking for some localized flooding and mudslides on some roads,” said Wendy Haddock, assistant director of the county Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services. “We’re in an alert-type mode.”
Flood control and other officials were particularly concerned about mudslides in the burn areas near Thousand Oaks and Santa Paula, and a loose hillside that has started to slough off above the tiny seaside community of La Conchita.
Thousand Oaks park rangers hiked behind houses along Felton Street in the Deer Ridge neighborhood to look for signs of erosion on the hillside denuded by the Green Meadow fire.
“Right now, the hillside looks strong, but this our highest risk area,” said Ranger Doug Tait. “Most of our efforts have been concentrated behind these homes.”
Flood control officials were also preparing for flooding of farmland along Calleguas Creek, the low-lying houses in El Rio near Oxnard and along the Ventura River.
Racing against the clock on Monday, work crews tried to shore up the county’s battered, wooden piers in hope of preparing them for another pounding from storm-driven wind and waves.
At the Ventura Pier, workers lashed loosened pilings with steel bands to stabilize the section that lost another 20 pilings over the weekend.
Monday night, the Ventura City Council declared a state of local emergency, hoping to pick up state and federal money to repair the pier that has lost 43 pilings and had 21 more loosened in the past month.
In Port Hueneme, operators delicately balanced a crane and pile-driving equipment on the sagging pier structure and managed to replace two of the 32 missing pilings.
“We will continue the repairs throughout the week, if we have a pier to work with,” said Tina Plummer, the city’s housing and facilities director.
Meteorologist Rea Strange, who specializes in wave forecasts, expected that the storm would recreate conditions similar to those that damaged the Port Hueneme Pier. “This will be the first time it is tested since it suffered all the damage.”
He said the storm should also kick up some big swells from the west that could challenge the Ventura Pier. “From a standpoint of fatigue, then it is certainly in a precarious position.”
As showers continued Monday, county flood control officials monitored their gauges in the swollen streams, and checked the debris basins they dug at the bottom of hillsides charred by last year’s fires near Thousand Oaks and Santa Paula.
Dolores Taylor, senior engineer with the county flood control department, said the rain comes at an unfortunate time when the hillsides are saturated and the tributaries to the Ventura River are near capacity after 12 inches of rain in six days.
“I never panic anymore, I’m too old,” Taylor said. “But I’m a little nervous.”
A county sheriff’s helicopter flew over the Ventura River, warning the 200 homeless who live in the river bottom of the flood threat. Using the helicopter’s public address system, sheriff’s deputies urged the homeless to spend the night in an emergency shelter at the Oxnard Armory.
Meanwhile, the manager of the Ventura RV resort evacuated motor homes from the oceanfront park that rests in the delta of the Ventura River. “We decided it was better not to take any chances,” said Manager Joe Palmer.
Most of those leaving took it in stride.
“They said that we’d better leave, so we’re leaving,” said Earl Halliday, 69, who had pulled into the park with his wife on Sunday. “We’d known that they had problems here before, but we didn’t think it would happen again.”
Some rural residents who live along fast-moving creeks also took precautions with their animals, moving them to higher or drier ground.
Kay Skeeters, who owns Ojai Valley Farms, said she has made room in her 60-stall barn for more than a dozen horses of neighbors along San Antonio Creek. “We’ve been doing this for four years in a row,” Skeeters said of the horse training center.
On Monday, Ana Kastings and her 12-year-old daughter, Delilah, took their mare to Ojai Valley Farms to get her out of the muck. “We don’t need to evacuate her,” said Ana Kastings of her daughter’s horse, “but she’s just a mess.”
At least 10 Simi Valley schools suffered some rain damage, forcing hundreds of students to switch classrooms or seek refuge in new, drier spots to eat lunch.
Maintenance workers repaired all they could, and remained on call through the night in the event of additional flooding.
Simi Valley High School, with its gym and multipurpose rooms still condemned from earthquake damage, had the worse problems. Its students were forced to find lunchtime shelter in classrooms or huddle under covered patios.
“The maintenance department has done everything that is humanly possible,” said Leslie Crunelle, director of secondary education. “What we’d like is an umbrella over the whole district.”
Over the weekend, construction workers tried to caulk leaks in the city’s new Civic Arts Plaza. The water damage has stained ceiling tiles, and rainwater continues to drip into an assortment of trash cans in its lobby.
Ed Johnduff, who oversees the $64-million building for the city, said he expects to get more water inside the building with the new storm. “Basically, we have to wait until everything kind of clears out before we do any actual remedial work.”
The rain caused relatively few problems on the roads. In one weather-related accident, a car hit a tree, which in turn knocked down some power lines and temporarily closed Donlon Road near Somis.
Flooding or small slides temporarily closed portions of a few other roads near Ojai, including Old Creek Road and Camino Cielo.
Despite the inconvenience, the rain was applauded by water agency officials.
Fred Gientke, general manager of the United Water Conservation District, said the rain has raised Lake Piru three feet since Thursday.
He hopes for a heavy storm so it will continue to raise the water level, providing plenty of runoff down the Santa Clara River. He says his agency can then divert it into settling basins to replenish the ground water in the Oxnard Plain.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Gientke said.
The Matilija Dam has started to spill and Lake Casitas is roughly 10 feet from becoming full.
John Johnson, general manager of the Casitas Water District, said it would take about 20 more days for the lake to reach capacity, if the rain continues at this pace.
The incessant rain proved to be a mixed blessing for the county’s farmers.
For citrus and avocado growers, the heavy rains are great for their groves because they flush the salt from the soil that collects with the use of irrigated water. But it also causes mildew and other damage to strawberry, celery, parsley, cilantro and other row crops.
“We have such a diverse agriculture community, no matter what happens someone doesn’t like it,” said Terry Schaeffer, agricultural meteorologist with National Weather Service in Santa Paula.
But given the county’s typically dry climate, he said, “We take our rain whenever we can get it.”
Times staff writers Miguel Bustillo, Julie Fields and Mary F. Pols and correspondents Matthew Mosk, J.E. Mitchell and Tracy Wilson contributed to this report.
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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
County Rainfall Here are rainfall figures from the Ventura County Flood Control Department for the 24-hour period ending 8 p.m. Monday. Oct. 1 is the beginning of the official rain year.
Rainfall Rainfall Normal rainfall Location last 24 hours since Oct. 1 to date Camarillo 0.16 7.92 5.19 Casitas Dam 1.18 12.18 8.65 El Rio 0.39 9.66 5.46 Fillmore 0.35 10.04 7.30 Moorpark 0.35 7.34 5.46 Ojai 0.83 9.34 7.62 Upper Ojai 5.75 13.83 8.11 Oxnard 0.12 9.45 5.24 Piru 0.39 8.92 6.21 Santa Paula 0.24 9.33 6.62 Simi Valley 0.39 7.68 5.20 Thousand Oaks 0.35 7.88 5.56 Ventura Govt. Center 0.59 9.20 5.17