By Elis Lee, 18, Crescenta Valley HS (La Crescenta)
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Elis’s family plans on keeping the sandbags for the next few years to remain prepared.

January was the worst month. A week of rain and wind swept through our neighborhood. All I could hear was the storm. It sounded like people were hammering on the roof all night. It was so loud I couldn’t sleep. After five hours of rain, I wanted to leave. I was worried about mudslides.

The fires last summer were bad, but this winter has been harder because of the rains and the threat of mudslides. The fires burned the trees and plants from the mountainside of the Angeles National Forest, about a mile from my home in La Crescenta. Now when it rains the bare mountainside is at risk for mudslides.

During the fires, the neighborhood looked pretty bad. Ash fell from the sky like snow. During the day, the sky was black and at night, it was red. It smelled like there was a huge barbeque. Because of the thick ash, no one could open their windows for fresh air. This lasted for a week. Even after the fire was gone, the ash was still in the air. It was terrible and my family didn’t open the windows for three months. Now the rains have caused mudslides, which have destroyed homes in my neighborhood.

I was exhausted from making sandbags

The first rain after the fires was in November. My mom began to freak out. She told me to get in the car and drove to a park where the city provided free sand to make sandbags to keep water and mud out of our homes. The sand was in a huge trash bin. There were a few other people also making sandbags. I climbed into the trash bin, dug up sand with a shovel and filled sturdy cloth bags with sand. After 10 sandbags, my arms were aching and I could barely feel my skin because of the rain and wind. At that point, I couldn’t care less about my house. I just wanted to go to my room and sleep. My mom and I made 40 sandbags and when we got home I lined them up in front of our house for protection.

Elis filled these sandbags to block mud from getting into her family's home during rainstorms.

Photo by Eugene Lee,
16, Crescenta Valley HS (La Crescenta)

The rain came again in January. The sandbags were still sitting in front of my house. The telephone poles on the mountain began tilting, as if they were going to fall any second. As it rained, I could see the soil on the mountain begin to roll down the hill. It seemed like the mountain was moving to the side. I thought the whole mountain was coming down and that home may not be the safest place to be. There was a pool of mud in the street outside my house. I didn’t want to go outside because I was afraid I would get swept away by the mud. 

I saw police cars constantly going up and down my street to check for damage to homes. There were fire trucks outside my house and firefighters checking the soil on the mountain to see if they could predict if there would be a mudslide.

Police told some of my neighbors to leave

The police came out to enforce mandatory evacuations from homes in immediate danger of possible mudslides. Those refusing to leave had to sign a form that stated that if someone dies in their home because of a mudslide, the police are not at fault, and therefore, cannot be sued. Luckily, my house was not located in the mandatory evacuation area but the police strongly recommended that we leave.

As the police were trying to evacuate parts of my neighborhood, they told us that during the storm, a mudslide caused a huge tree to collapse on a home and killed the family inside. I thought that this could also happen to my family. I was scared and wanted to leave.

My mom said that we would leave if we really were in danger. I thought back to how I was trapped in the house during the fire. My family didn’t evacuate then and we were under mandatory evacuation. I remember getting up from my bed and looking out the window. The fire was not even a quarter of a mile away. But my dad had talked to a police officer who said the situation was not as bad as it seemed. My parents thought the fire wasn’t a threat to our neighborhood and we stayed at home.

Back then, I was stressed out and imagined my house burning in the fire while I was dying inside. One night, I slept just two hours. This situation with  the mudslides feels similar and it makes my stomach tighten up and turn.

At school, a lot of teachers and students were talking about the mudslides and how if more neighborhoods were evacuated, our school would turn into an evacuation center. Some of my friends told me that their houses flooded because of the rain and they couldn’t get their cars out of their garages because big rocks were blocking them in. Others had mud seeping through their doors and ruining their carpet and furniture. They told me that to block the mud, they made sandbags. The police put out sandbags on the main road closest to the mountain to protect the streets and homes. But during a storm in the beginning of February, the mud came down so hard that the sandbags went down the street with the mud.

I began to realize that mudslides and fires are different. My counselor and teachers were explaining that people can see a fire coming. But mudslides will cover a home in mud in a matter of minutes and no one will see it coming until it happens. I started to think about my house and wonder if it was OK. I wanted to go home, pack everything and leave.

According to state officials, it will take about three years for trees to start growing again and stabilize the soil on our mountains. That means that for the next three years, the mountain will be in danger of mudslides whenever it rains. It will be a long three years of hoping that our neighborhood and my house will be safe.

Other stories by this writer …

Learning to live with ADHD. Once Elis, 17, was diagnosed, she got help that made it easier to focus in school. (November – December 2009)