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Storm pummels L.A. hillsides and canyons: Mud, boulders and a baby grand piano

A resident walks by a destroyed home.
A resident walks past a grand piano flipped on its top and other debris lying in Caribou Lane after a home was pushed off its foundation in the Beverly Crest neighborhood of Los Angeles on Monday. (Ringo Chiu / For The Times)

Downed tree limbs and palm fronds, shingles blown off of roofs and debris littering the street are common sights after a storm in Southern California.

An upside-down piano? Not so much.

Although many California residents were reeling from the biblical rains falling Sunday and Monday, the effects in Los Angeles County may have been most acute in the slide-prone canyons. One example was the baby grand piano splayed out on its back on Caribou Lane off Beverly Glen Boulevard.

The piano's former home was pushed off its foundation around 2 a.m. Monday, sliding down the slope and into another house, according to neighbor Travis Longcore.

"It was a big rumbling sound and then a boom," Longcore said while standing a few doors down from the debris slide.

Insulation, wiring, mud, boulders and downed power lines made up the mixture of debris, along with what's left of a brown baby grand piano. "The whole bedroom is intact," someone shouted, peering from afar into a gaping hole on the front of the house.

The novelty of the wreckage shouldn't detract from how terrifying the storm has been for some hillside residents.

Read more: Deadly storm continues to batter Southern California amid new flood, mudslide fears

Itai Danovitch's phone rang at his home off Beverly Glen Boulevard just after 2:30 a.m. Monday. It was his neighbor Matt Davis calling from Danovitch's carport. Davis and his family were taking shelter, having fled their home after hearing the wall of mud and debris crash into the house nearby.

The house was destroyed, two other homes were damaged, and a carport collapsed onto a vehicle, neighbors said.

When the wrecked house disgorged its contents onto the narrow street, "it sounded like sustained thunder," Davis said Monday morning. "And then it sounded like a giant took an oak tree and snapped it in two."

Davis and his family had been sleeping in their living room Sunday night, concerned about the chance of a repeat of the previous year's debris slides. "We were already fearful," Davis said, adding that his family had flashlights and an emergency bag ready just in case they lost power or had to run out.

Ivanovitch let multiple neighbors take refuge in his home. A major concern was a gas leak that they could hear hissing over the heavy rainfall early Monday. By 11 a.m. a Southern California Gas Co. crew was working on the damaged property; workers declined to comment other than to confirm that the gas was shut off to the damaged home.

Longcore said firefighters rescued a woman from her home after she was trapped inside, but it did not appear that anyone was seriously hurt. According to neighbors, the house that slid down the hill was unoccupied.

Read more: Evacuation orders and road closures in effect Monday in Southern California

It was a long night and morning in the canyons in western L.A. County, where record-setting rain caused mudslides, property damage and flooding.

Woodland Hills, Bel-Air and Topanga Canyon were among the areas that saw more than 8 inches of rain. The atmospheric river-fueled storm already smashed several daily rainfall records on Sunday. Downtown Los Angeles received 4.1 inches of rain — breaking the record of 2.55 inches set on Feb. 4, 1927.

The winding residential streets just southwest of the Encino Reservoir were nearly deserted Monday morning after half a day of record-setting rain.

Tree branches and mud blocked a portion of Boris Drive, leaving a narrow path for the few cars that drove past.

Water rushed down the sides of the streets, picking up small rocks and sticks as it went. Mud had descended a hill off Boris Drive during the night, leaving a gaping hole in the landscape.

Nathan Khalili, 23, rents the property atop the hill. He said he expects his property manager to assess the damage later today.

“I’m usually not worried about storms, but I didn’t think a ... landslide would happen,” he said. “I woke up, looked outside, and half the mud had slid down the hill.”

Khalili said he didn’t take many steps to prepare for the storm.

“It’s out of our control,” he said.

He lost power between midnight and 9 a.m. Monday. Unable to charge its battery, his phone died overnight and did not play his usual morning alarm. “I’m supposed to be at work right now but I accidentally slept in,” he said.

Khalili's next-door neighbor Rob Resnick, 34, was also dealing with damage from the storm.

Read more: 'There's still a lot of rain to come': Storm-battered SoCal faces two more days of pain

“Usually when it rains we get two to three leaks,” he said. “Right now, we have at least 10.”

Resnick said he put a tarp on his roof Sunday morning and weighed it down with rocks in an attempt to keep water out.

He also made sure his flashlights had fresh batteries, which proved necessary when he lost power early Monday morning. “We’ve lived through worse,” Resnick said.

Dennis Hacela, who lives on Beverly Drive in Beverly Crest, had been keeping his eye on the news over the weekend and saw that the rains were expected to be unusually heavy. Still, he'd never heard rain hit his roof as hard as it did Sunday night.

"In my 35 years of being in this canyon, this is the scariest it’s ever gotten,” he said.

On Monday afternoon, the Fire Department showed up at his home to alert him to the severe mudslide nearby. Fire officials evacuated all residents on the other side of the street and told him to pack a bag, park his car in an accessible place and be ready to evacuate just in case.

“I’m hoping there’s enough barrier between me and the mud that it won’t come down here,” he said.

To prepare for the storm, the 73-year-old rerouted water from his downspouts to the back of his home with a long pipe. There have been some leaks in the house, he said, but nothing he can’t live with. If he has to evacuate, Hacela’s car is parked upward in the garage and he can stay with his daughter in Sherman Oaks.

The route out of Beverly Crest could be tricky. At least two vehicles got stuck in a large mudslide in front of residences on North Beverly Drive, and crews were out trying to dislodge the cars.

Read more: 'Extremely dangerous situation': Hollywood Hills hit by major mudslides, flooding, record rain

Farther west, Keith Wilbur, 65, was walking up the side of the road on Topanga Canyon Boulevard around 12 p.m. He wore thick rubber rain boots, a rimmed hat and a plastic poncho. His hands and forearms were covered with mud.

“I fell in the mud back there,” he said. “It nearly pulled my boots off.”

Wilbur was on his way back from a harrowing journey on foot to the Topanga Creek General Store to get water. He had gone grocery shopping over the weekend before the storm hit, but he didn’t expect his water pipe to burst, leaving him without anything to drink.

“The rain sounded like a freight train all night,” he said.

He hiked about two miles to get to the store and fell in the mud on a closed section of road on Topanga Canyon Boulevard. “There are cones there stopping cars from going through, but I figured I could walk,” he said.

Wilbur, who lives on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, said the two creeks that intersect on his property are now overflowing. He and his family received an evacuation notice a couple of days ago, he said, but they chose not to leave because he didn’t want to leave his animals behind.

“I have six peacocks, two dogs and a 400-pound pig,” he said. “How am I supposed to put them all in a car and drive off?”

The only other person wandering Topanga Canyon Boulevard on foot was a bearded man wearing a wetsuit and carrying a neon green kayak. A GoPro camera was strapped to his chest. He wouldn't reveal his name, but he did share that he was going to Topanga Creek, which is usually too dry to kayak in.

A few hundred feet north on the same road, a group of four young Angelenos stood in ankle-deep mud as a plow pushed debris off to the side of the path. They each held cans of White Claw, an alcoholic seltzer.

A mudslide had fallen down their driveway, said Maxwell Stiggants, and they could not leave their property by car. Their neighbor was driving the plow in an attempt to clear the area.

“Do we look worried?” Stiggants asked, holding up his drink. “It’s either this or a fire.”

Read more: Harrowing rescue amid storm after disabled boat crashes off Long Beach

In Studio City, Andrea Holstein stepped around the large rocks, tree branches and gravel that piled on the intersection of Fryman Road and Brookdale Road. She was looking for her wallet, last seen sometime Sunday before a mudslide rampaged down the neighborhood she grew up in.

Holstein said she was watching an “Indiana Jones” movie with her family around 9 p.m. Sunday when they heard a loud noise outside. Inferring that the bang wasn’t coming from the movie, she said her husband jumped to investigate and quickly spotted a “river of mud” flowing down Lockridge Road.

They grabbed everything they could: their kid, their dog, anything at their disposal. But Holstein’s wallet got lost in the mix.

Holstein and her family evacuated their home but got stuck in the mud, staying overnight at a friend’s house who lived down the hill. When they returned, they found her front door blocked by a pile of mud and rocks.

As she poked inside her car, which now has two flat tires, Holstein said, she has to call insurance companies. And continue the task of finding her wallet.

“Fortunately, my worst problem right now is the lost wallet. And mending my front door.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.