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Mudslide risk prompts evacuations in Los Angeles-area foothills

Workers walked past a home yesterday damaged by last weekend’s mudslides in La Canada Flintridge, Calif. The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning for the area. Workers walked past a home yesterday damaged by last weekend’s mudslides in La Canada Flintridge, Calif. The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning for the area. (Nick Ut/Associated Press)
Associated Press / February 10, 2010

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LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. - A new wave of winter rains washed over the wildfire-scarred foothill towns north of Los Angeles yesterday, leaving some residents to flee their homes in bag-laden cars while others risked remaining to deploy buckets in an attempt to hold back the muddy deluge.

Officials issued evacuation orders for 541 homes on the hillsides of La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Acton, and two canyons. Several streets in the city of Sierra Madre spent several hours under evacuation orders that were lifted in the evening.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies went door to door, urging people to leave; those who refused signed waivers acknowledging they were aware of the risk.

“I don’t think the danger is that great,’’ said Del Tucker, a 78-year old retired geology professor who planned to spend the afternoon reading and watching TV with his wife as rains battered his neighborhood. “That doesn’t mean we’re right. We could die.’’

Sheriff’s deputies also asked residents to move their vehicles and trash cans away from the streets, where heavy rain took residents and officials by surprise Saturday by washing away cars, punching holes in houses, filling swimming pools with debris, and inundating homes with mud.

The National Weather Service downgraded its flash flood warning for the area to a flash flood watch last night, but warned that another half-inch of rain could still hit the region, where up to about an inch had fallen over the course of a day.

“It looks like there are some good thunderstorms in this next wave coming through,’’ forecaster Stuart Seto said.

About 60 percent to 70 percent of the region’s residents ordered to evacuate had complied, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

“They know what’s at stake,’’ said sheriff’s Sergeant Bob Furman.

Lyn Slotky, 62, packed a red suitcase and her nervous Labrador into her Honda hatchback. She said she was afraid that the gnarled branches, boulders, and bricks embedded in huge banks of mud remaining from the weekend’s downpour would be a hazard as they washed down the street.