Southland tries to rebound from five days of storms

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Jason Kandel/KPCC

A view from Mulholland Drive at the Stone Canyon Overlook in Beverly Glen on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, shows the snowy Angeles National Forest as a backdrop at the edge of the San Fernando Valley.

City and county agencies continued work today on storm damage estimates as the Southland tries to rebound from five punishing days of rain-drenched and blizzard-like weather.

With a state of emergency proclamation in place for six California counties, including Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside, damage estimates will be necessary to secure federal disaster assistance to recoup storm-related costs.

Although most evacuations were lifted Friday, some residents in the Paradise Valley area in La Canada Flintridge and Acton on Heffner Road remained subject to mandatory evacuation orders, according to Los Angeles County Emergency Management spokesman Ken Kondo.

``The Unified Command will continue to evaluate weather conditions and advise of any further lifting of evacuation order,'' Kondo said in a statement. ``Residents with valid identification will only be allowed to access these areas.''

A total of 20 county roads remained closed as of 4 p.m. Friday, including the Angeles Crest (2) Highway above La Canada Flintridge, Big Tujunga Canyon Road from the city line, and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road.

Residents of nearly 2,100 homes in the foothills beneath hillsides left bare by the Station and Morris fires were under evacuation orders for most of this week, with officials fearing a deluge of debris and mud descending into neighborhoods.

But while water, debris and mud did cascade down some hillsides, there were no reports of any major damage during the week of drenching rains, with catch basins and storm channels working as designed - in most cases.

A particular concern was Mullally Basin, in the Paradise Valley neighborhood of La Canada Flintridge, which overflowed at least once in the past week.

One post-storm cost that is sure to be scrutinized will be estimates for debris removal, especially the county Department of Public Works estimates for clearing out the foothill debris basins.

Debris removal in the basins costs about $10 per cubic yard, Arthur Vander Vis, a principal engineer in the county Department of Public Works' Flood Maintenance Division, told the Los Angeles Times in December.

Mullally Basin's capacity is roughly 9,400 cubic yards, and it is just one of 29 or 30 foothill basins that require frequent clearing or enlargement to be considered adequate for heightened erosion during post-fire conditions.

Of concern to some observers is whether all tax-payers should share the costs of storm protection for a well-heeled minority who willingly choose to live high on erosion-vulnerable slopes. Others say the region's aging flood control system benefits all residents, not just hillside dwellers.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Friday that erosion-vulnerable neighborhoods were ``very, very fortunate, in no small part because of the preparation of our city, police and fire departments, 19 city agencies, the county agencies.''

Between 10 Tuesday night and 5p.m. Friday, rainfall was measured at 6.37 inches at the San Gabriel Dam; 4.41 inches at Sepulveda Canyon at Mulholland; 4.38 inches in Newhall; 3.41 inches in Long Beach; 3.40 inches in Van Nuys; 3.38 inches at the Hollywood Reservoir; 3.23 inches in Bel Air; and 2.53 inches in downtown Los Angeles.

Snowfall in the east San Gabriel Mountains was significant this week, with estimates of seven feet on Mount Baldy and four feet at Wrightwood.

Despite the departure of the latest storm's main front, a high level of concern remained regarding the fate of properties in foothill communities below the site of last year's 250-square-mile Station Fire.

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky warned that even though the burn areas survived this week's round of storms relatively unharmed, there was more danger ahead.

``A three- or four-inch storm this week may have been absorbed, barely absorbed, a one- or two-inch storm next week may be far more devastating,'' Yaroslavsky said.

``And people should be aware of that, not taking for granted, not thinking the coast is clear, because it's not. We have a whole winter yet to come and everyone should be as vigilant in the weeks ahead as they have been in the last four or five days.''

Another storm could hit the region late Monday night or Tuesday, but could miss the greater Los Angeles area and was expected to be weaker than the systems that battered the Southland this week, the NWS forecast.

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