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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Officials Measure Damage as Rain Abates in Most Areas

Weather: 'We dodged the bullet,' one says, but that could change with another big storm. Accidents plague county, and record precipitation drenches Ojai.

March 07, 2001|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County residents used a reprieve from torrential rains to assess the damage caused by a three-day storm that spurred a massive sewage spill, temporarily shut roadways and caused dozens of traffic accidents.

County officials were relieved Tuesday to avoid another full day of rain, which they had warned would have sent rivers over their banks and caused widespread flooding.

"We dodged the bullet," said Dolores Taylor, senior hydrologist with the county flood control district. "We never did get that last band of rain we were supposed to."

Not yet at least. Forecasts call for more rain this weekend, though the National Weather Service says the next storm won't pack the punch of the last deluge.

Storm-damage repair will cost the county an estimated $500,000, said Butch Britt, deputy director of the Department of Public Works.

"If we get a hard rain next week, with the ground saturated like it is now, we'll see serious damage," Britt said. "So far, the damage has not been that significant."

Britt's work crews spent Tuesday repairing sinkholes, clearing tree limbs and stabilizing slippery hillsides.

Meanwhile, the CHP reported more than 20 minor accidents Tuesday, including a school bus crash that slightly injured a Ventura boy.

The bus was carrying 48 children on Foothill Road near Seton Hall Road in Ventura at 8:25 a.m. when it slid on wet pavement, hitting two cars in front of it, CHP Officer Russell Carver said.

One 13-year-old from Cabrillo Middle School was taken to Ventura County Medical Center with complaints of neck pain. He was released and returned to school later in the day, Carver said. No one else was injured.

The rain also caused sewage tanks at the Ojai Valley Sanitary District to overflow for a second day. The plant has sent an estimated 7 million gallons of disinfected, partially treated sewage into the Ventura River, said Elizabeth Huff, a spokeswoman for the county's Environmental Health Division.

Huff urged people to stay out of the river and to avoid beaches from Ventura Beach north to Faria Beach. The general manager of the sanitary district, John Correa, said the sewage is not dangerous. But Huff says it could contain harmful bacteria and should be avoided for at least 72 hours after the rain has stopped.

Amtrak canceled eight of its Pacific Surfliner trains Monday and Tuesday because of flooded tracks between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. It also shut down its Coast Starlight service between Los Angeles and Goleta. A company spokeswoman said most trains would run as normal starting about 6 a.m. today.

California 150, which was closed by a mudslide Sunday, was reopened about 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The Ojai Valley suffered the most damage, with toppled trees, downed power lines and several instances of flooding.

An Ojai family remained displaced Tuesday, two days after a 100-year-old rain-soaked oak toppled onto their Paseo Road home.

Carla and Sophocles Cotsis, who both work for Ojai Valley School, said they heard a cracking noise just before midnight Sunday. They grabbed their three daughters, ages 11, 8 and 5, and fled the house just as the tree collapsed.

"We just bolted out of here," Sophocles Cotsis said.

The oak hit a roof-top heating and air-conditioning unit, which broke the fall and limited the amount of property damage.

The family is living in a school dorm until roofers determine the extent of the damage.

The Cotsises had lived in the house, which is owned by the school, for six years and lost other oaks in the past. With those in mind, Carmen Cotsis, 8, had expressed concern about the patio oak just hours before it fell.

"She said, 'Mom, I know I shouldn't say this, but that tree isn't going to fall, is it?' " Carla Cotsis recalled Tuesday. "I said, 'Oh no, honey, don't worry about it.' She's never going to listen to her mother again."

The storm raised Lake Casitas 6 feet since Sunday--which officials say is enough water to supply 28,000 residents for one year.

The man-made lake could reach its capacity by the end of the month, but the Casitas Municipal Water District is only diverting a small portion of storm runoff into the lake, said Steve Wickstrum, principal engineer with the district. Crews are diverting 500 cubic feet per second from the Ventura River, he said. More than 10 times that amount had been thundering downstream.

The National Weather Service said Old Man Mountain, which straddles Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, received 22.72 inches of rain since Saturday night. Other parts of Santa Barbara County reported 10 inches.

Lake Casitas received 11.1 inches of rain, Ojai had 8.8 inches and the Ventura County Government Center reported 6.6 inches since the storm began.

Ojai set a record with 3.21 inches of rain in a 24-hour period from Monday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon. That topped its 1975 record of 2.09 inches, according to the weather service. Oxnard also set a record a day earlier with 2.69 inches in 24 hours, more than doubling its previous 1.12-inch record in 1987.

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