Wearing rain boots and a vinyl work apron, Gordon Jackson sloshed through muddy puddles of water and overturned furniture, trying to save what was left of value in his living room.
"We weren't expecting such a severe storm," Jackson said, standing near a water-soaked sofa.
Jackson's sofa, refrigerator, computer, books, dog and anything not bolted down were all set afloat when Malibu Lake flooded earlier this week, sending torrents of water and mud rushing into houses occupying the banks of the lake in the Santa Monica Mountains south of Agoura Hills. More than 40 inches of water found its way into Jackson's house, forcing his wife, Anniss, to escape through an upstairs window.
But Jackson and others who had returned to their homes on South Lake Shore Drive on Friday to assess the damage seemed surprisingly calm through all the devastation. Floods are a part of the history of this lakeside community, they say.
They are extraordinarily well-prepared, local fire officials agree. In Jackson's case, preparedness extends to a system of hanging straps that enable him to hoist his furniture seven feet in the air, to dangle high and dry above invading waters.
For Jackson and his neighbors, the benefits that come with living so close to nature far outweigh the problems visited on them by its occasional fury.
"We enjoy the lake and the wildlife," Jackson said, tossing a piece of bread to a goose that had wandered into the living room from the lake. "It hasn't flooded since '83. We've had a lot of good years."
Fire officials and those who live there say Malibu Lake residents are better prepared than most to deal with such situations. Malibu Lake often overflows when the area receives 4 to 5 inches of rain, residents recalled.
"These people know exactly what to do," said Los Angeles County Fire Department Capt. Tom Fullerton, who was on the street Friday surveying the area. "They're used to it. They handled themselves well."
The station received a minimal number of calls from the area this week despite severe flooding there, Fullerton said.
Jackson, who has lived in the area since 1977 and has experienced at least two other floods, had remodeled his house in preparation for just such an event.
"I tried to do it in a way that would minimize the damage" and make cleanup easier, he said.
A large beam runs across the ceiling so that the couple can hang their lightweight furniture high above the floor during a flood, Jackson said. The television is mounted high on the wall. Valuable items such as antique carousel horses are kept on the second story of the house and the floor of the living room was redone in brick so that it will be as good as new after drying out--unlike varnished wood or carpeting.
But even with the remodeling, there was no way to prepare for the sudden onset of this week's flood, Jackson said. The lake rose too quickly to hoist the furniture and remove other items. He estimated his loss at "thousands and thousands," but is waiting until after the storms subside to continue the cleanup.
Resident Doug Barnard has also seen his share of floods.
"I was here during the '66 flood," he said. "Most of the residents have been through previous floods. . . . When it floods once . . . you've got to know deep down inside it's going to again."
This time the flood had an almost surreal quality about it, neighbors say.
Barnard was sitting in his living room that overlooks the lake when he saw "a dock, with all the patio furniture on it like it was set up for a party, float by" and go over the dam, he said.
"If there had been some guy on there toasting his fortune it would have been a scene from a Fellini movie," he said.
Over the years, Barnard has learned that haste in cleaning up the damage sometimes does not pay. With another storm expected to pound the area this weekend, he was in no hurry to clean up the leaks and puddles in his home.
"I'm just hanging out," he said. "I'll wait until its over, then I'll clean up."
Apparently, others were also waiting.
Some of the houses along the street were deserted, their doors unlocked as if the owners had left in a hurry. In one house, a thick blanket of mud covered the carpet and furniture, toys and appliances were overturned as if by a tornado.
"It's like a war zone," said Jean Thoren as she opened a door to a rustic cabin owned by her neighbors, who were forced to leave during the flood. In the thick layers of mud that covered the yard in front of the cabin, lawn furniture lay stuck like prehistoric fossils in a tar pit.
Her yard, where manicured rose bushes once bloomed, is now a mud flat littered with a stranded rowboat and an antique table that washed out of the house.
For Thoren and her family, the flood was a new experience.
"We lived here all during the drought," she said.
The couple had just remodeled their home when the flood hit, ruining the carpet, furniture and appliances.
"This was a new room," she said. "New carpet, every picture just hung."
Thoren spent the day Friday stacking valuables on the second floor of her house in preparation for the next storm. She also sprayed the flood-damaged area with chlorine and water to disinfect it, because the storm caused the septic system to back up, spreading sludge throughout the house.
In spite of their individual troubles, neighbors on what is described as a "very family-oriented" street have pulled together to help each other, Thoren said.
"It makes it not seem so bad," she said. "You're never alone in these types of situations."
Thoren managed to maintain her sense of perspective.
"If you get depressed, you have no energy to clean it up," she said. "It's just one of life's little glitches. There's so many more devastating things going on in the world than a little mud and water in your house."