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Leo Carrillo State Park will be closed through January after flood damage

A man dumps water from his boot after helping shovel away mud and debris at Leo Carrillo State Campground in Malibu.
John Ota, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Parks and Recreation, lifts his leg to remove water from his boot after helping shovel mud and debris at Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu on Friday.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Leo Carrillo State Park will be closed to the public due to damage from a year-end rainstorm that flooded the campground last week.

State parks officials continue to assess the damage at the campground in Malibu, where 50 campers were rescued Thursday as water surged through the area. Monday morning, some cars remained stuck in the mud waiting for a tow.

District Supt. Jerry West of the California Department of Parks and Recreation said a handful of campers remained at the site in RVs that are away from the flooded area, but after their reservations are up, the park will be closed to the public until further notice.

“There’s massive cubic yards of mud and debris that came down and impacted multiple campsites, restroom facilities and other infrastructure at the campground,” West said by phone Monday morning.

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Nicole Peterson of Salt Lake City camps with her family at Leo Carrillo as part of a yearly tradition. On Thursday, they woke up around 3:45 a.m. to the rushing waters around their RV. The mother of three said her two younger children, a 4-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, seemed to enjoy the adventure of their predicament, but Peterson’s 10-year-old daughter was a bit more nervous.

“We had to be rescued by boat, and so the firefighters came and got the children first. I had to tell the 10-year-old, ‘It’s going to be OK. Just trust the firefighters.’ And then the [firefighters] came back to get my husband and I,” Peterson said by phone from her home in Utah.

It took the Peterson family about two hours to dig their Toyota Sienna van out from the mud and remove all the debris, and 45 minutes more to get their RV out.

“It was kind of scary and crazy to be there, waiting for our rescue,” Peterson said. “But we love Leo Carrillo. It’s a fun place, and my husband grew up going there. We’d love to go back. Hopefully they do something about the creek overflowing.”

Storms in December pushed California snowpack to 160% of average, giving a boost to the state’s drought-depleted water supplies.

Since the Woolsey fire burned through the region in 2018 and cleared most of the underbrush, heavy rains have caused the nearby Arroyo Sequit Creek to flood, West said. The fire destroyed more than 1,500 structures including a visitor center, restrooms and staging facilities used by park workers at Leo Cabrillo. The blaze also charred surrounding vegetation and brush. Since then, the creek has filled with water to the point where it’s almost level with the campground, West said.

Last week’s rainstorm caused the creek to fan out into the campground, where campers awoke to a steady torrent of water early Thursday morning.

West, who has been with the state parks department for about seven years, said he’s never seen flooding as intense as last week’s deluge.

“This is not typical,” West said.


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