Mudslide Leaves Laguna Beach Residents Homeless

July 18, 2007
Rebecca Huberman

A mudslide destroyed 20 Laguna Beach homes on Sunday, displacing at least 45 residents and injuring 10, one of which is in critical condition.

The mudslide occurred between four and five in the morning after four hours of heavy rains. James Perez, Secretary of Environmental Policy, estimated that the storm had caused at least $100 million in damages. He said that it will take three months to clean up the debris and one year to rebuild the damaged homes.

Residents claim that they were not forewarned of the storm and that the government has been slow to respond with aid.

Laguna Beach resident Robert Lecusay, 38, said that his family has received no support from the government or any relief agencies.

“Take it from me,” he said. “They’re not providing anything.”

Lecusay’s house was split in half, leaving his wife, Ramana Fragola, in the hospital with a broken arm. Half of his house fell into the ocean, including his art studio where he worked as a graphic artist. His insurance will not cover disasters like this, even though he was led to believe it did. Lecusay is living in his car with his two sons and is making plans to stay with his brother in San Diego for a week.

Mudslide victim, Deborah Wilson, 58, said that she, as well as her neighbors, had not been notified of the storm’s dangers. The mudslide detached the back of her house and she is currently living in a hotel.

“It felt like the world was coming to an end,” she said. “I stood and watched as my house fell. There was no time to think or save anything.”

Hydro-geologist Carl McKinney has done research on the soil structure of Laguna Beach. He believes that the area should have never been developed because it lies on a sandstone plateau made of porous soil. The steeper slopes of the hill liquefy when the soil reaches 30 percent moisture content and become unstable, causing a mudslide. McKinney advised against rebuilding the homes.

“It is only a matter of time before the rains happen again,” he said.

Warning letters were supposedly mailed to the residents before the storm hit. Perez said that the government is working on providing temporary housing in the next two weeks for displaced residents. Information about rebuilding the destroyed homes will not be released for another month. He would not disclose any of the preventative measures the government plans to take to prevent this disaster from happening in the future.

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