When Disaster Strikes!
Firsthand account of one street’s suffering from the heavy rains that soaked southern California early this year
THE view on Divina Vista Drive certainly wasn’t divine on Saturday, February 16, 1980. It was 4:45 p.m. Torrential rain was hard hitting all day, after nine days of storms had dumped 17 inches (43 cm) of rain on Monterey Park, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. I looked out of our window. Our sun deck was sagging, the railings leaning over backward. The hill across the street was beginning to give way, endangering the homes below.
Suddenly, police rescue squads were coming up the street, sirens screaming. The paramedics arrived, two fire engines roared up the street, and an ambulance drove up after them. Divina Vista Drive was a rushing river of water and mud. A sound car drove up the street blaring out: “Everyone must leave!”
Out in the driving rain the torrent was so swift in the street that firemen had to carry us across. We went down the hill in the ambulance, but before reaching the bottom a mud slide blocked the street with four feet (1.2 m) of mud. No one could pass until city crews bulldozed a path through for the ambulance. It took us an hour to go 200 feet (61 m).
Our house was not hit as hard as were some others. One home had a mud slide slam through the house, pushing the refrigerator out into the street. Through one of their broken windows their couch was hanging out. Broken parts of television sets, a dining table, sink and ironing board were partially buried in the mud. Farther up the street a mud slide had crushed the walls of a house. The roof landed down on the street below. All their furnishings were in the front yard of the house across the street.
Right next door two men were working at the top of the steps of their two-story home. Suddenly a dreadful rumbling like the roar of thunder was heard, and, boom! the mud slide hit and pinned one of them under a car at the bottom of the street. He was completely buried in mud except for his head sticking out. Neighbors dug him out, alive.
It was heartwarming, however, to see how the disaster brought neighbors closer together. Interesting was their realization of how material things were not of primary importance. One neighbor said: “It’s an awful, sickening feeling—all you accumulate in a lifetime can disappear in the snap of the finger.” Another said: “Having something like that occur to you can really do something. I’ve changed my entire attitude about worrying over petty things.” Still another remarked: “When you’re that close to dying, being alive is really what’s important.”
Public crews were working in the area in 12-hour shifts. Half of the force was on duty all the time. On this one street 10 were injured, including four firemen and three policemen. The California Conservation Corps workers distributed 495 rolls of plastic covering, 12,000 sandbags and 175 tons of sand to control mud slides. All together, in Monterey Park 50 homes were damaged, 15 very seriously damaged and five were demolished. Loss is estimated at $2.5 million.
Court cases are pending as injured parties are seeking damages. Who is responsible? The defendants, including the city of Monterey Park, will argue that the torrential rains and the ensuing damage were an “act of God.” However, it is more accurate to look at the acts of people. Builders bulldoze the natural hillsides into pads and put houses on these lots. Embankments of compacted fill dirt are created, and the natural hillside is weakened. When the rains come the chopped-up hills go.—Contributed.