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Storm damages 16 Camarillo homes, strands motorists

Posted at 2:18 PM, Dec 12, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-13 12:38:02-05

A powerful storm that descended early Friday on Ventura County left a damaging rockslide, stranded motorists and numerous road closures.

In Camarillo Springs, 16 homes were damaged by tumbling rocks and mud that gave way on the hills burned in the 2013 Springs Fire. Nine homes were red-tagged, deemed unsafe to enter. A 10th remained red-tagged from a mud flow Halloween night.

Three residents were rescued from damaged homes, but there were no injuries, authorities said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Storm damage in California

All told, 124 homes were evacuated Friday morning. The evacuation notice became voluntary Friday afternoon as the rain subsided.

“Most of what we saw was a whole lot more rock in the mud flow,” said Tom Krushke, of the Ventura County Fire Department.

The Pacific Coast Highway, also in the burn area, was closed between Las Posas and Yerba Buena roads due to a mudslide. Ten motorists were stranded on the PCH from the county line to Mugu Rock, with one driver treated for hypothermia. According to authorities, the motorists were either rescued or exited their cars on their own.

About six miles south of Las Posas Road, north of Deer Creek Road, the highway virtually disappeared. Sludge-like mud covered it several inches deep. As the sun came out, rocks and other debris on the hills fell repeatedly to the ground.

Patrick Porteus, a Caltans worker, said rocks start to fall not during the rain so much as when it stops and the drying begins. It was unclear how long the PCH would remain closed.

In Camarillo, Potrero Road between Rancho Dos Vientos and South Lewis Road was closed. Parts of Ventura Road in Oxnard, Arnold and Dufau roads near Oxnard, Lynn Road in Thousand Oaks, San Jon Road in Ventura and McNell Road near Ojai also were temporarily closed Friday.

The Ventura County Fire Department received 37 calls related to flooding overnight. Downed trees and power lines, scattered power outages and scores of minor vehicle accidents were reported early Friday.

In Simi Valley, there was flooding in an underground parking garage at the city's police headquarters. County fire alerted the police department to severe flooding in the 2200 block of Tapo Street. Three businesses on the street were flooded. flooding was also reported at the intersection of Yosemite and Los Angeles Avenue where there was about 3 to 4 feet of water on the roadway, said Cmdr. Stephanie Shannon, of the Simi Valley Police Department.

Nearly 400 homes in the county were without power until about 7 p.m. because of the storm.

Hardest hit were the areas near the hills burned bare in the May 2013 Springs Fire, including Camarillo Springs, the Dos Vientos neighborhood of Newbury Park, the PCH and Point Mugu State Park.

Serious damage hit the state park, with trails and campgrounds out of service for weeks or possibly months.

Craig Sap, the Angeles district superintendent for California State Parks, said all campgrounds, including Sycamore Canyon, were damaged, with some completely under water. Trails like the popular Chumash Trail were simply gone.

“Three to four feet of debris are covering areas that were once flat,” Sap said. “Trails are impassable to the backcountry.”

There were five campers in the area Thursday who were able to get out before the storm. Sap said campers who made reservations at local campgrounds will be sent to Leo Carillo or Malibu state parks.

Several homes in Dos Vientos reported mud damage Friday.

On Via Santana, Erin Bell’s home suffered some of the worst damage.

“We had mud in both garages. We had mud that came through the back door, so it’s a big mess right now,” Bell said.

In Thousand Oaks, the cafeteria and gym at La Reina High School flooded, forcing the Catholic girls school to cancel a Friday night event. The school hoped to reschedule the Dance for Wellness, which involves several local schools, said Laird Wilson, director of facilities and operations.

Near CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo, a car was trapped on Potrero Road about 2 a.m. Authorities said two people were rescued and later sheltered at the university.

In Santa Paula, crews worked around the clock to ensure no chemicals flowed off the Santa Clara Waste Water Co., the site of an explosion last month.

No chemicals had escaped from the site, said county Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen.

Lorenzen said Patriot Environmental, the contractor doing the cleanup from the Nov. 18 spill, pumped all the rainwater into portable tanks.

The storm dumped 1.5 to 2.5 inches in Ventura County coastal and valley areas and 2 to 4 inches on its mountains. Oxnard reported 2.48 inches, Thousand Oaks 2.29 inches and Camarillo Springs 1.89 inches. Upper Matilija Canyon near Ojai reported 3.98 inches, the most in the county.

The storm was not a drought-buster, said meteorologist John Dumas of the National Weather Service, but “the rain that it brought was very intense.”

Dumas said in some parts of the county, 1 to 2 inches fell per hour. Just a half-inch per hour can be enough to trigger a mud or debris flow, Dumas said.

The weekend should be mostly dry, forecasters said, but two back-to-back storms are expected starting Monday morning and lasting through Wednesday afternoon. That rain, however, will not be as intense as Friday’s.

“That’s what we want to see — a bunch of rainstorms with low-intensity rain so as not to have flooding impacts like this,” Dumas said.

Rain runoff also can carry disease-causing bacteria to the ocean and beaches, officials said. County health officials advised people to avoid contact with all stormwater runoff and ocean water for at least 72 hours after the rain ends.