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Foothill residents prepare for mudslides as storm approaches [Updated]

Terrified. That's the word Olivia Brown has used since she heard rain was headed for her La Cañada Flintridge neighborhood.

Standing behind her one-story stucco house near the corner of Ocean View Boulevard and Earnslow Drive, Brown, 44, pointed to the steep terrain rising above her.

"All that is supposed to come down," she said. "There are some big boulders up there. And we've had daily landslides since the fires. This is ground zero right here."

The news of an impending storm forced Brown and her husband to create a barrier that they hope will stop debris from piling into the home they've owned for seven years. They had already spent a week staking steel rods attached to logs into their backyard to divert debris, but over the weekend, they also added an 8-foot tall chain link fence reinforced with railroad ties across the back of their house.

Within the last few weeks, the couple got rid of the hot tub that had sat in their yard and increased their flood insurance coverage. They estimate that they will have spent close to $10,000 prepping for mudslides when they're through.

Once the rain comes, they plan to take their three children, three dogs and two cats to a friend's house. For today, however, Brown hoped to finish laying out the 200 sandbags she recently picked up.

"I woke up with an anxiety attack," she said. "We weren't ready to have it this hard, this soon. A heavy rain just took everybody off-guard. We're just hoping to do as much as we can and hope for the best."

Officials are concerned that the rain could put some areas burned in the recent Station fire at risk of severe debris flows. The fire burned 250 square miles in August and September, leaving hillsides barren.

The U.S. Geological Survey released a report last week warning that major mudslides are likely this year in Pacoima Canyon, Arroyo Seco, Big Tujunga Canyon and other areas.

The storm is expected to leave the area late Wednesday and sunny skies are expected to return by late Thursday. Temperatures could climb back into the 80s by the weekend, weather forecasters said.

[Updated at 11:35 a.m.: Another La Cañada Flintridge resident, Gary Stibal, 69, hired a civil engineer three weeks ago to assess his backyard and come up with a design that could save his home from mudslides.

Since then, construction workers have descended on his house every morning to carve a deep trench into the charred mountain behind it and create chain-link barriers to trap falling rocks. The threat of falling debris, Stibal said, has made for "an emotional event" that has affected his wife's blood pressure.

The couple recently remodeled their home but are now looking into staying at a motel or apartment if they evacuate. And, despite the $40,000 he's spent on prevention, Stibal, a retired Walt Disney executive, is still not sure the home he's owned since 1973 will make it unscathed.

"Hopefully we just have a little rain scattered over weeks," he said. "But if there's a major downpour, I don't think anything we build is going to save anything."]

-- Corina Knoll in La Cañada Flintridge

 
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