Community responds to flood

Eighteen families were known by Tuesday to have been displaced and 31 structures damaged by the flood and debris flows that terrorized Laguna residents on Dec. 22.

For those families and the others less dramatically affected, the aftermath may be almost as daunting as the disaster. But the community, city government and the Laguna Relief and Resource Coalition are responding with compassion and the skills learned the hard way in past disasters.

"The community, as always, has come forward," Ann Quilter said Tuesday at the City Council meeting.

Quilter reported that offers of assistance came from Mission Hospital, the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, Waste Management of Orange County, every church and organization in town.

"What works is an e-blast to friends. [Councilwoman Pearson] Elizabeth's e-blast resulted in a $10,000 donation from Holly and David Wilson," Quilter said.

Quilter, who lost her home and almost her life in the 1998 mudslides in Laguna Canyon, has been named volunteer disaster relief coordinator for the coalition.

She said the love and support she received from the community in 1998 helped heal her and she feels privileged to give back to the community a measure of what she received.

"It helps to have someone who understands how people are feeling," Mayor Toni Iseman said.

As of Tuesday, the coalition was dealing with 53 active cases. Based on past experience, Quilter said the coalition will be training people so every case will have a personal representative.

"There are all kinds of ways to give — money, skills and sweat," Iseman said.

Coalition Executive Director Donna Valenti announced that among the most pressing needs is storage for items salvaged from or donated to homes that cannot yet be inhabited.

"We need household goods, clothing and furniture," Valenti said. "If you have donations, please let us know."

However, the primary focus is on the people in need.

The coalition food bank is open from 7:30 to 10 a.m., but Valenti is there from 8 a.m to 4 p.m. and she will work with the victims.

A Flood Relief Fund has been established. Donations may be made by calling Valenti or by check, made out to the Laguna Beach Relief and Resource Coalition, memoed 2010 flood, and mailed to P.O. BOX 4481, Laguna Beach, CA 92652.

Clothing donations can be made at the Assistance League Turnabout Thrift Store, 526 Glenneyre St.

Some offers of assistance were made at the meeting called on New Year's Eve by City Manager John Pietig, so victims could be identified and matched with appropriate resources.

Contractor Bill Hahn said he had backhoes and lots of people with shovels to help.

"I am here as a representative of the Assistance League," Ginny Skelton said.

Waste Management's ebullient spokeswoman Michelle Clarke said there will be pickups.

"We will be out there," Clarke said. "You put it out, we'll take it."

Clarke said the company is trying to figure out how to transport donated bulky items to those in need.

"My heart goes out to you," Clarke said. "But this is Laguna. We will bounce back."

Her cell phone number is (949) 289-7950.

The Mormon Church has offered free labor and Iseman has asked the Laguna Beach Unified School District to give community service credit to students who help clean up the mess caused by debris flows and flooding.

The council took no action that required a vote at the meeting because state law prohibits official actions taken at an unnoticed meeting.

However, City Manager John Pietig is not so hamstrung and his efforts have not gone unnoticed.

"He deserves gold-plated waders," said Quilter, referring to Pietig's hands-on supervision of the emergency services. "You are now the face of Laguna and it does not go unappreciated."

Pietig said the efforts of department heads and the council was impressive.

"All of our [emergency service] people were out and we got mutual aid from 10 agencies," Pietig said.

As for the cleanup and follow-up, Pietig promised to keep ACT V open through Jan. 10 for dumping.

Containers that tumbled into the flood channel, exacerbating if not the sole cause of the flooding, were removed by the owner.

"If he hadn't, the city would have," Pietig said. "And there is still a lawsuit pending.

"We are working to get the culvert cleared. It is essential to clear the storm drains, which was done in early October and we had maintenance crews out in the community if the days before the 'event.' "

Over the counter fees will be waived for some essential repairs, such as wiring, on damaged homes.

"The city has been very cooperative and is helping with the cleanup," said Katie Maes. Her home is the only one the city had yellow-tagged as of Tuesday, Pietig said.

Maes, an engineering geologist who has been involved professionally with applications for Federal Emergency Management Agency financial support, said she would be happy to work with the city on getting Dec. 22 declared a disaster and therefore eligible for reparations.

FEMA aid is dependent on a presidential declaration of a disaster.

"The city, the county and the state have done everything that could be done to ask the President to declare it a disaster and free up as much assistance as possible," Pietig said.

City officials urged residents to contact elected officials in Washington D. C. to lobby for the declaration.

Anyone affected by the Dec. 22 downpour is urged to contact the Quilters at (949) 494-4180 or (949) 433-9801, the Coalition at (949) 497-7121 or Coalition Executive Director Donna Valenti 24/7 on her cell phone, (949) 212-9155.

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