Thursday marks the first anniversary of the great flood of 2010, which sent mud and debris cascading through quiet Laguna Beach neighborhoods and into the downtown area.
The intense deluge early Dec. 22 capped an unprecedented 12 days of heavy rains that saturated the area. The intensity of the downpour that morning was astonishing.
Laguna Canyon Road became a river of mud and debris. Residents and businesses along Laguna Creek were hit on three sides: mud and water flooded in from the creek and the road, and the hillsides behind them — already saturated from days and days of rainfall — simply let go and slid.
It was an unwelcome intrusion into the holiday shopping season for local businesses, and for residents it was a huge mess. Property loss was estimated at $12.3 million, with 180 properties damaged, but thankfully no human lives were lost — although there were rescues of people in their cars attempting to escape the moving mass of mud.
Lagunans responded as they always do to such catastrophes: with grim determination and optimism. Committees were set up, needs identified, funds raised and disbursed to those who had lost their homes, at least temporarily.
It was an interesting welcome for newly appointed City Manager John Pietig, who earned praise for his around-the-clock presence and willingness to get his hands in the mud, literally, to help city workers and community members slog out.
Main Beach was all but washed out by the deluge that erupted from the Beach Street sluice that funnels overflow creek water in the middle of downtown Laguna. Mud rose to two to three feet on Broadway, and only those with "flood gates" were spared from an unwanted intrusion of sticky, sandy mud that seeped deep into shops and destroyed merchandise.
Undaunted, merchants immediately began to sweep out their shops and kept their doors open for shoppers in need of last-minute gifts.
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center and the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter sustained major damage when the hillside behind them came down and the creek flooded. In fact, the only casualties of the flood were several animals at the shelter that drowned, despite being placed on tall chairs and stools by staff, and a number of fish that washed into the road at Laguna Koi Ponds.
In 2012, the city will begin to implement $900,000 worth of projects approved after a Flood Mitigation Task Force came up with recommendations on how to keep the creek from flooding downtown again.
As residents know too well, the city's canyons are beautiful and serene — but can be treacherous. Another of the recommendations by the city's task force is for an advance warning system for heavy rainfall targeting Laguna so residents can get out of harm's way. That cannot come too soon.