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Oft-Battered Laguna Storms Into Action

Weather: Food is stocked, roofs fixed and channels cleaned as more heavy rain looms.

January 29, 1998|LIZ SEYMOUR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA BEACH — What happened to a funky women's clothing store last month when El Nino drenched Laguna Beach with nearly 8 inches of rain in 12 hours says something about the city's attitude about disasters.

Inside the Laura Downing store downtown, flood waters and mud soaked the white-and-gray flecked carpet. It had to be ripped up, treated with a dry-vac and reinstalled with new padding.

Despite the smelly, soggy cleanup, the store reopened 24 hours later, said Marilyn Brocke, the store manager. It was just an ordinary Laguna Beach-style catastrophe.

"I'm so sick of hearing about El Nino," Brocke said. "I don't want to make light of the weather, but this city is prepared for disasters."

Nearly eight weeks after the Dec. 6 storm, which caused more than $5 million in damage to private property and $1 million to city property, Laguna shows few signs of being battered. Merchants have cleaned up their stores and city crews are completing an estimated $200,000 in repairs to neighborhoods and streets.

After tackling a devastating fire in 1993, floods two years later and now, El Nino, the city is hardly a novice at fighting natural disasters.

Yet adversity has made many people more wary--and better prepared. That's evident as more heavy rains are expected as soon as Sunday.

Veronica Sumner, who pushed a stroller carrying her 2-year-old daughter, Lauren, along the Main Beach boardwalk, said she fixed the leaky roof on her Park Avenue home, and is stocking up on food and diapers in case she can't get out to stores.

"I've even ordered extra water from Sparkletts," she said.

Meanwhile, work goes on to complete the city's recovery.

Main Beach suffered some of the worst damage of the Dec. 6 storm. City maintenance workers Wayne Chintala and Andy Rounds are wrapping up $40,000 in repairs to the city's signature seaside park that, for thousands of visitors annually, symbolizes the attraction of Laguna Beach. Storm damage forced part of the beach park to close for six weeks. It reopened two weeks ago.

Water had raced down Laguna Canyon Road and Broadway "like Niagara Falls" onto Main Beach, Rounds said. The flood's strength, combined with high ocean waves, destroyed part of the concrete beach park, including a large patch of lawn.

Two other areas of the city also were hit hard.

A washout damaged homes on Nyes Place, prompting the city to design a caisson wall to support the unsteady sidewalk and road.

In the Sun Valley neighborhood, city employees cleaned debris out of Laguna Canyon channel, which had overflowed.

But the area, which suffered an estimated $5 million in private property damage, still wears the last remaining scars of the storm: tarp-topped house roofs and dumpsters full of storm debris on the streets.

During the height of the storm, 51 of the 63 rooms at Aliso Creek Inn and Golf Course were under water, said Mark Slymen, the inn's golf course superintendent.

Flood waters destroyed six footbridges spanning Aliso Creek and washed away chairs and other furniture. The nine-hole golf course won't reopen until April 1, Slymen said.

The December storm poured a foot of water into Bouchard's Pharmacy on Forest Avenue, warping the wood laminate Sheila Bouchard installed only months earlier.

She watched the sandbags piled in front of the store her parents started in 1945 float away. And when the water rushed underneath her building, it damaged $10,000 worth of wiring.

But if El Nino reappears, Bouchard said she is ready. Wood planks with a rubber bottom will slide into metal holders mounted to the pharmacy's entrance to prevent water from seeping in. This is the fourth flood she's endured since she took over the drugstore from her parents 12 years ago. But she doesn't let it get her down.

"You just deal with it," she said.

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