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California and the West

Threat of Mudslides Continues

Weather: Despite sunny skies, soil is still eroding beneath houses and railroad tracks. Meanwhile, mold and mildew attack crops.

March 03, 1998|DAVID REYES and ERIKA CHAVEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Skies remained sunny Monday across Southern California, but the recent deluge is continuing to take its toll on houses, railroad service and farmland.

In San Clemente, residents on Paseo de Cristobal sought to save their possessions when a crumbling rain-sodden bluff led to evacuations of four homes.

City officials have condemned one of the homes and asked Santa Fe railroad trains to proceed through the area at 10 mph, fearing that stronger vibrations would dislodge more of the hill.

Meanwhile, Amtrak passenger train service between Los Angeles and San Diego--which had reopened Sunday after a five-day lull because of a damaged rail bridge in San Clemente--was suspended again because of a San Clemente slide Sunday. Metrolink service in the area was also canceled.

Amtrak service north of Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo remains suspended through at least March 10 because of damage to a railroad bridge near the Ventura station, Amtrak officials said.

In the San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety has red- or yellow-tagged about 50 dwellings in danger of mudslides in recent weeks, mostly along the slopes of Santa Monica Mountains.

The most recent slide occurred Saturday night, when mud rumbled down a slope and flattened a house in the 3800 block of Eureka Drive in Studio City, pushing it into a backyard swimming pool.

Four days before the saturated hillside gave way, the house--unoccupied at the time--had been deemed uninhabitable by building officials. The houses on both sides of the pancaked house were yellow-tagged.

In San Clemente on Monday, all Margrette Bass could think about as she peered at the crumbling bluff holding up her San Clemente home was what possessions to grab if the worst happened.

"I've been walking around the house trying to figure out what I would grab and take with me if we're evacuated again," said Bass, who has lived in her seaside home for 14 years. Part of Bass' patio wall broke off, and damage was worse next door at the house owned by Michael McKinley.

A wooden deck belonging to McKinley was found in two pieces halfway down the slope while the soil beneath Bass's home eroded, claiming a retaining wall, bushes and leaving her concrete patio undermined.

A city inspector red-tagged McKinley's house because the bluff fell within 3 feet of the home's foundation.

In Ventura County, agricultural officials released new storm damage estimates Monday--raising the figure released before last week's storms from $19 million to $31 million.

The county's strawberry crops have suffered by far the worst damage, estimated at $18 million. Other major crop losses in the county include celery at $4.2 million, lettuce at $2.5 million and broccoli at $1.9 million.

Strawberry growers like Deardorff-Jackson Co. are not only four to six weeks behind in production because of recent rains but are also battling pollination problems and mildew.

"This year with the storms stacked up one after another, we have just enough time to get the bad fruit out," Scott Deardorff said. "With the storms being this intense, it breaks the skin of strawberries and causes mold and mildew problems. So we have to remove that fruit right away so it doesn't spread throughout the entire field."

Times staff writer Karima A. Haynes and correspondent Dawn Hobbs contributed to this story.

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