Bulk of Cleanup Is Over for Most Storm Victims

Times Staff Writer

Residents throughout the neighborhoods of southern Los Angeles County that were hit by last week's deluge and hailstorm returned to work and school Monday, with the bulk of the cleanup behind them and the business of finishing -- and paying for -- repairs still to come.

"The first thing I was trying to do was get it all cleaned up," said Elijah Asante, a 42-year-old lawyer in Watts. "It's still a mud ball around here."

Asante said he watched in disbelief as 2 1/2 feet of icy water flooded into his law office Wednesday at the Black Law Institute on Wilmington Avenue, wrecking floors and $50,000 worth of office equipment.

Meteorologists have called last week's storm, which dumped more than 5 inches of rain in about three hours on a relatively small area bounded by Florence Avenue and the Harbor, Artesia and Long Beach freeways, a "100-year flood."

Storm drains are designed to handle runoff from smaller, so-called 10-year storms, at most, said Mike Qualls of the city Department of Public Works.

Flood damage may have been exacerbated by several clogged catch basins along Wilmington Avenue, which were not cleared until nearly 8 p.m. Wednesday, said Ken Pellman, a Los Angeles County public works official.

Meanwhile, the county's one-stop emergency center, visited by about 6,000 people since the storm, was seeing far fewer people on Monday, said Michelle Callahan of the county Department of Public Social Services.

"It's enough time now that people are starting to get things back to normal, and some of the damage has been taken care of by landlords or residents."

Few residents had flood insurance or knew how to navigate the array of agencies that are involved in determining individual eligibility for low-interest loans and other relief, she said.

Teams from the city and county emergency preparedness offices continued their block-by-block survey of the flood zone to finalize damage estimates for state agencies that will be responsible for deciding whether residents and businesses will be eligible for low-interest loans to cover repairs.

Assessors have found more than 150 homes and buildings that were damaged.

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