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California residents survey damage caused by historic storms: ‘We were in shock’

A car is half submerged in mud in the Beverly Crest neighbourhood of Los Angeles (Mike Bedigan / The Independent)
A car is half submerged in mud in the Beverly Crest neighbourhood of Los Angeles (Mike Bedigan / The Independent)

Jill Shinefield stood in front of the yellow caution tape in the drizzle. Behind her the scene was chaotic, with debris strewn across the road and an abandoned black Nissan half submerged in mud.

“It was mayhem,” she said. “We’ve lived here 23 years, we’ve never, not even remotely, had anything like this before.”

Firefighters responded to a heavy debris flow in the Beverly Crest area of Los Angeles on Sunday night, evacuating seven homes. Six adults and nine children were rescued from the scene, according to the LAFD.

The neighbourhood is an affluent one, with properties exceeding several million dollars lining either side of the steep, winding road. According to one resident, US megastar Taylor Swift used to own one of the houses on the street.

On Tuesday the carnage was still apparent. Vehicles remained in driveways with mud and water reaching up the windshields. Houses stood empty with the lights on, their occupants having been in too much of a rush to turn them off before evacuating.

Ms Shinefield told The Independent that she and her husband had been alerted to the incident at the sound of “trucks” arriving on the street.

“We assumed maybe it was something like maybe a tree might be down but we had power and our internet was working, so we didn’t really suspect much,” she said.

“But when I came up the driveway, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I mean the mudslide, the cars – we’ve lived here 23 years, we’ve never, not even remotely had anything like this before.

“There were at least 10 fire trucks, there was search and rescue, there were four or five police cars… We were in shock.”

A large black SUV that had been dropping people off from the Grammys Awards the night before had also become stuck, Ms Shinefield said.

Cars submerged in mud up to the windshields (Mike Bedigan / The Independent)
Cars submerged in mud up to the windshields (Mike Bedigan / The Independent)

The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) had knocked on the family’s door and given them the option to evacuate. As their home was not set against the hillside and clear of the slide, leaving was not mandatory.

Though they decided to stay put, Ms Shinefield said there was concern about further slides or incidents.

“I did not sleep well [last night],” she said. “We’re still concerned, every time there was a loud noise I was up thinking ‘ok is something going on’ but of course we’re concerned going forward, how stable is the hill?

“Is this going to happen again, we’re going to get more rains in a week so is this now going to become a recurring problem? We don’t know.”

On Tuesday lunchtime, geologists and representatives from LA Public Works arrived to survey the damage, assessing the structural integrity of the buildings.

Captain Eric Scott, Los Angeles City Fire Department, said that authorities were still encouraging people to limit non-essential travel, despite some improvement in conditions.

Firefighters at the scene of the slide on Tuesday (Mike Bedigan/ The Independent)
Firefighters at the scene of the slide on Tuesday (Mike Bedigan/ The Independent)

“We’ve had significant rainfall over several days and even though it’s stopped for the moment the hillsides will continue to move for the next several days,” he told The Independent, speaking from the scene in Beverly Crest.

Over the past several days emergency crews have responded to 383 mudslides due to severe weather in LA, which have left an unknown number of homes damaged.

Officials have deemed seven buildings uninhabitable, while another 10 have been “yellow-tagged.” That designation means residents can go back to their homes to get their belongings but cannot stay due to the damage.

A black Nissan half submerged in mud was abandoned at the scene of the mudlside in Beverly Crest (Mike Bedigan / The Independent)
A black Nissan half submerged in mud was abandoned at the scene of the mudlside in Beverly Crest (Mike Bedigan / The Independent)

Devastating slides like the one in Beverly Hills have taken place across Los Angeles as the atmospheric river weather systems continue to batter the west coast.

Mark Alston of the Baldwin Hills neighbourhood, in the southern region of the city, told NBC Los Angeles the mudslide “sounded like thunder” as it began running down their street.

Mr Alston told the outlet he built a retaining wall around his home to protect against this exact type of disaster, but that this mudslide made him realise it needs to be even larger. “This went around the retaining walls,” he told the outlet.

While the rain was forecasted to ease on Tuesday, the National Weather Service warns floods may continue. Yet although the worst may have passed, many locals will remember the unprecedented conditions.

Barb Fain, another Beverly Crest resident of almost 30 years, described the incident in her neighbourhood as “a major trauma”.

“We’ve never seen anything like this… since, like, forever,” she told The Independent.