Ten Injured 45 Displaced By Laguna Beach Mudslide

July 18, 2007
By Nettra Pan

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

The mudslide occurred between four and five in the morning after four hours of heavy rain. At a press conference Tuesday, James Perez, Secretary of Environmental Policy, estimated that the storm has caused at least $100 million in damages. It will take one week to clear roads, three months to clear debris and one year to rebuild the damaged homes, he added.
Residents complained that they were not forewarned of the mudslide and that the government has been slow to respond with aid.
“I’ve spoken with several of my neighbors and they didn’t receive any warning,” said Deborah Wilson, 58, one of the residents displaced by the catastrophe, “It is really interesting that the government can send someone to a press conference but not to come to our houses.”

Notifications were sent by mail a considerable amount of time in advance, Perez claimed. But apparently not many people received the alert.

Robert Lecusay, 38, another displaced victim of the debris flow, was in bed with his wife, Ramana Fragola, when the mudslide occurred. The couple witnessed their house break in half before it dropped 100 feet into the ocean. “My sons were originally in that half of the house, but they managed to get away,” he said. Lecusay and his two sons, aged 8 and 10, are currently living in Lecusay’s car, while Fragola is in the hospital for a broken arm.

Wilson was also in bed at the time of the mudslide. “I was asleep at home,” she explained. She had no time to salvage her belongings. “I thought it was an earthquake, it never even occurred to me to take anything out,” she said. Instead, Wilson stood in the middle of the street and watched her 40-year-old house plummet down the hill. “It just felt like the world was coming to an end,” she said, “They can rebuild my house but they can’t replace all of my things.” At the mention of her late husband’s ashes, Wilson covered her face with her hand. She said, “My husband’s ashes are in the ocean, what am I supposed to do with that?”
Wilson’s insurance company has arranged for her to live temporarily in a hotel, but she hasn’t received any additional information in terms of rebuilding her home. Perez was vague about the govenerment’s “systems in play” to begin rebuilding the community. Lecusay believes the government had a critical role to fill in relation to insurance companies. “I just don’t know who to turn to,” he said, “They totally shafted me.”

Hydro-geologist Dr. Carl McKinney attributed the severity of the mudslide to the mass urban development in Laguna Beach. Experts have “long been concerned about debris flow in the canyon,” he said, explaining that the large houses channel water flow through the canyon. He insisted that the soil structure of Laguna Beach was “unstable” for house construction. When the housing area was built 35 years ago, there was not as much information available, Dr. McKinney and Perez concurred. “It seems now it should have never been built,” Dr. McKinney said, to the dismay of residents, “There is no way to build houses over there.” Perez said the government would work with a team of advisors to edit guidelines for suitable house-building locations.
The heavy rains leading up to the mudslide was “possibly related to global warming,” Dr. McKinney said. In any case, it demonstrated “changing weather patterns that we need to be aware of in this area.” A catastrophe of this nature is not limited only to Laguna Beach, but in other areas of Southern California. He said, “It’s only a matter of time before this kind of thing happens again.”

Meanwhile residents are unsure of future plans. “I’m hoping that as a community we can confront the government because it’s obvious that they don’t know what they’re doing,” said Robert Lecusay, 38. But for now, he is focused on more urgent issues such as where to sleep at night and where to work. “How am I going to get my kids to school? Where are they going to relocate us?” He said, “I just don’t know what to do right now.”

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License