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A dramatic rescue in La Cañada Flintridge

The predawn pounding on his front door woke Henrik Hairapetian from a sound sleep. It was a neighbor saying that an elderly woman down the street was trapped in a flooded house.

Outside, rain fell in sheets. A basin on a La Cañada Flintridge hillside was overflowing, sending torrents of mud and water onto homes along Bristow Drive and Ocean View Boulevard.

Hairapetian, 40, threw on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and ran to 86-year-old Ann Rouman’s house three doors down.

“The woman’s daughter was outside screaming, ‘She’s in the back! She’s in the back! . . . She can’t walk!’ ” Hairapetian said.

Muddy water was gushing out the front door and down the front steps of her one-story home.

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With another man who lived nearby, Hairapetian waded into the house. Floodwater reached their waists. The door to Rouman’s bedroom was blocked by furniture that had been pushed against it by the water pouring through her window.

“We could hardly see what we were doing,” Hairapetian said. “We pushed the door with our shoulders. Then we broke it down and pulled it off the hinges.”

Rouman was lying on her bed, tethered to an oxygen tank. “Her hospital bed was floating in the water,” he said. “She was about to go under.”

The two men disconnected her from the oxygen, picked her up and carried her out.

But no emergency vehicles were able to pass through the muddy area to the hillside homes.

So Hairapetian, who runs a business that modifies four-wheel-drive trucks for use in movies, drove her to the Verdugo Hills Hospital emergency room in his bright yellow military-style Hummer.

“She was in shock,” he said. “Her eyes were dilated. If I wasn’t there, she wouldn’t be here.” She was later released from the hospital under her daughter’s care.

All over the Paradise Valley neighborhood, the relentless predawn rain jolted residents out of bed. They found themselves in worst-case scenarios.

In the 5400 block of Ocean View, Carol Mollett awoke to something that sounded “like a helicopter flying through our house.”

The house was shaking violently. Outside, they found the noise had come from a tree sliding down the street and catching on a tree in their yard.

Their house was hardly damaged, but “it was frightening,” she said.

A block away, Donna McLaughlin stood in her living room with a muddy shovel, fighting back tears. The basin above the hillside had overflowed.

“I had to rescue my daughter out of bed,” she said. “My husband tried to stop the mud with the dining room table. But then the windows started shattering and the mud started flowing. There was no stopping it.”

When they ran outside, they saw their quarter-ton truck washing down the street with seven other vehicles. Their flooring will have to be ripped out and their furniture replaced.

“But you know,” she said with an air of resignation, “we’re alive.”

Outside, George Allen, 77, a retired Pacific Bell manager, was surveying the damage with a group of neighbors. His Dodge truck, pushed up against a side wall by the mudslide, was totaled.

Nobody had predicted the flooding this week, the worst he had seen in 47 years of living in the neighborhood, he said. “Everyone was a little complacent.”

But Allen had no complaints about city officials, saying they had worked diligently to clear out the basin above the community in the days before the storm. “They were really trying to get ahead of it, but it overwhelmed them.”

victoria.kim@latimes.com

irfan.khan@latimes.com

margot.roosevelt@ latimes.com


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