As the historian Kevin Starr has observed, Los Angeles would not be the metropolis it is today were it not for the seductive sketches of paradise printed on orange crates, the fanciful promotional fliers put out by the Union Pacific Railroad and other relentless 19th century boosterism that lured masses of people to the region. Even in 1934, the editors of this newspaper were claiming, “No place on Earth offers greater security to life and greater freedom from natural disasters than Southern California.”
Except, of course, for earthquakes, fires and floods.
The mudslides and other storm-related calamities that have killed at least 15 people across Southern California, many of them in the mudslide-ravaged hamlet of La Conchita, are the latest reminders that nature here isn’t as kind as boosters claimed.
The residents aren’t either. In some, the floods brought out the worst. Drivers were seen rolling down the windows of their ruggedly named TrailBlazers or Yukons to upbraid red-eyed road crews for failing to sweep stray branches from the road. Other motorists flashed along at 80 mph in downpours, only to spin out into the paths of the more cautious. People ignored signs warning them not to try to cross flooded areas, forcing rescuers to risk their lives trying to save them.
Those rescuers, however, epitomized the best of Southern California. In recent days, city, county and private-sector workers have prevented scores of tragedies by working around the clock to saw off tree branches before they snapped onto cars, to raise downed wires before they electrocuted people, to clear clogged flood channels before they inundated homes, to rescue people trapped in floodwaters and to tow drivers who had become snowbound on mountains. Individual good Samaritans rescued people from collapsed homes or pitched in by offering takeout food to the crews working to clear roads of mud.
In all, the heroes were the real story.