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Living the Dry Life : Months After Quake, Residents Still Lacked Comforts--Such as Water

August 19, 1994|ABIGAIL GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The toilet caused Sidney Yarboro countless hours of stress since the Jan. 17 earthquake. So did the shower and sink.

Long after the quake knocked out water, power and sewage to his trailer park nestled under the Golden State Freeway, and long after the rest of Los Angeles and most of his neighbors had utilities restored, Yarboro and a few neighbors were relegated to bottled water and portable toilets.

Finally, about a week ago, the water came back on.

Sort of.

Yarboro and friends spliced into a temporary water main and tank--with water company blessings. The line still goes dry now and then, but it's a long-awaited relief for a small community that is still straining to regain the basic necessities while other quake-weary homeowners have graduated to the stage of arguing with contractors and loan officers.

Yarboro, for one, is trying to remain stoical about the whole mess.

"When I was a boy I grew up with very little to eat," Yarboro said. "I just said I have to do what I did when I was a boy. Learn to ration and learn to face everything with a smile."

A combination of the main shock and the freeway collapsing on the Crescent Valley Mobile Home Park's front stoop knocked out utilities to all 87 park spaces for about a month, said Brian Fitterer, the park's managing partner. Access to the park was cut off as well while emergency workers rebuilt the freeway.

Many of the occupants left--10 never came back. But as insurance money and the hospitality of relatives ran out, the other residents slowly filtered back. Some on the top levels of the park, set high on a hill, had services restored within a few months of the quake.

But life on the park's bottom level is another matter.

The impromptu water line may be working now, but a few residents still have no sewer service. Yarboro does have sewer service. He also has his neighbors' sewage emptying onto his driveway--but that's another story.

Necessity has taught Yarboro and his neighbors perseverance. When their conveniences failed, they supplanted them with jury-rigged contraptions.

They wound hoses through the hills, siphoning water from the swimming pool. They lugged water-filled milk jugs up to their roofs to fill their swamp coolers, about six or seven times a day. And the wash? That was done in a bucket or the sink.

There are other adjustments, and indignities, as well.

Postboxes have taken the place of mail carriers. "They say it's too dangerous to come down here!" shouted Diana Lemaster, as a giant backhoe operator dug up the road and neighboring driveways. Lemaster's floors vibrate along with the machinery from first morning light until just before sundown.

Lemaster and her roommate moved back to the park in May. They had to wait until two weeks ago for workers to lay new water pipes and until this week for the water to flow.

But on Thursday the county Department of Health Services told her the water was also safe for drinking.

"They keep working and digging, though, and turning it off and on," Lemaster said.

Neighbor Lois Reyes is condemned to the portable toilets. Under her trailer, where a sewage pipe used to be, there is only a long trench.

"If we flushed it would come out under the trailer," Reyes said. "It's a step up from camping, but I'd rather not be camping."

*

Since workers dug up the road a few months back, the tenants have had to contend with the thick dust that swirls around the trailers. When the crews water it, hoping to keep the fine dirt from coating cars and homes, the road turns a muddy mess.

Fitterer, who lives in Orange County, said disputes with contractors, public works officials and insurance companies have caused delay after delay in repairing the more than $1 million in damage. He figures that the work is 90% complete and hopes to have things back in order by the middle of next month.

In the meantime, Yarboro took comfort in the few bits of modern life he has had returned, such as running water.

"It's a beautiful feeling to have it back," Yarboro said. "To me, it's worth a million dollars."

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