Damaging rains come to an end
Rain finally gives way to sun
January 12, 2005
By DAVE DOWNEY - Staff Writer - The Californian
A fifth straight day of relentless rain triggered the
declaration of a Riverside County emergency Tuesday and tore a 50-yard gash in Pala Road south of Temecula, stranding 400 families.
But skies finally began to clear and forecasters said vintage Southern California sunny weather is poised to return.
"For now, we can put away the raincoats and umbrellas and enjoy the sun," said Steven Vanderburg, a National Weather Service forecaster in San Diego. "So for the next week, no worries. Time to clean up and dry out."
Yet, the storm did not split town before dumping more than 6 inches of rain on Temecula since it began Jan. 7, sending the seasonal total to more than 21 inches.
And there was plenty to worry about early Tuesday.
Shortly after midnight, yet another downpour hammered Southwest County, turning Pechanga Creek into a raging river several feet deep and half a football field wide. Pechanga Fire Chief Ed McOrmond said the rain-swollen creek ate away at the base of Pala Road, which already had been closed to vehicle traffic several hours, and collapsing a 50-yard section of the two-lane artery at about 2 a.m.
The collapse stranded about 400 families, some of whom live in the unincorporated county and some who live on the Pechanga Indian Reservation, McOrmond said. Throughout the day, the swift-flowing muddy water continued to eat away at the sides of the banks, exposing utility cables and the roots of a giant oak tree.
"It's the first time I've ever seen anything like this," said Elizabeth Toomey, 82, who had left her home on the south bank the night before and returned to survey the situation.
"I can't even get to my house right there," Toomey said, pointing across the creek to her one-story home of 50 years that is flanked by tall eucalyptus trees and stately queen palms. "I want to start crying. This is horrible. The water is getting closer and closer to my house, too."
On the other side of the creek, residents could not get out to go to work or school because Pala Road also was blocked several miles to the south by boulders, debris, mud and water.
Among those stuck were Teri and Scott Pagel and their four children. Teri Pagel said her family had plenty of water, food and clothing, and so did most of her neighbors. McOrmond said he was not aware of anyone with a special need and had not made any emergency deliveries. But he said his fire department was ready on a moment's notice to fly supplies in by helicopter or evacuate someone if the need arose.
Pagel said at one point his 12-year-old son, Joshua, grew concerned about his pet black-throated monitor lizard "Agro" and wanted to go across the creek to buy crickets. But his mother, who chuckled while recounting the conversation, told him the lizard would have to wait for its choice fare.
On a more serious note, Pagel said she and neighbors were concerned about the out-of-the-way drive they would have to make to grocery stores, schools and jobs in Southwest County.
Paul Russell, highway operations superintendent for Riverside County, said it will be at least a week, and possibly longer, before the county can repair and reopen Pala Road south of Pechanga Casino and Great Oak High School.
A section of Pauba Road north of Highway 79 South also was washed out next to Galway Downs, where mud 2 feet deep clogged a horse jumping course. Russell said Pauba likely would remain closed for a month or two.
He said most other county roads in the area had reopened or were about to because they had been inundated with water and mud, but had not been badly damaged.
Meanwhile, Highway 74 (the Ortega Highway) remained closed Tuesday between Grand Avenue in Lake Elsinore and San Juan Capistrano because of mudslides and road damage, the California Highway Patrol said.
On the positive side, Pagel said she was marveling at the amount of water gushing down Pechanga and other normally dry creeks in the area.
"It's like a white-water rapids. It's just going so fast," she said.
"It's pretty. But it's caused a lot of destruction over here. Hopefully, it won't rain anymore, anytime soon."
Farther north, relentless rain triggered the spilling of sewage into a rapidly swelling Lake Elsinore, which has escalated several feet in recent weeks. That followed a Monday sewage spill into the Santa Ana River in the Riverside area, and prompted concern on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
"It seems like everything is thrown out the window when it rains," said Supervisor Bob Buster, at the board's Tuesday morning meeting. "I thought our sewer systems were built so that this wouldn't happen."
Buster urged agencies that provide sewer service to improve systems so spills do not occur in heavy rain.
Also on Tuesday, the board voted 5-0 to declare a local emergency as a result of the five-day storm, and call on Sacramento and Washington to follow suit. Mary Moreland, deputy director of fire for emergency services, said a federal and state declaration would open the way for local agencies to seek money to defray costs for repairs to roads and bridges, and to help homeowners obtain loans and grants for repairs for flood-damaged houses.
Moreland said county officials were preparing to fly over the county today to assess the damage and determine how much it will cost to clean up.
Besides roads and houses, the county is likely to find damage to businesses. Over at Team Heating and Air Conditioning in southwest Temecula's business park, for example, a 30-by-30-foot section of a roof caved in early Tuesday.
"We've got a new skylight," quipped Brent Lanigan, a sales representative.
The storm finally may be departing, but astonishing rainfall totals were left behind.
According to Temeculaweather.com, Southwest County has received 6.31 inches of rain since the this last bout of storms began Jan. 7, including 1.27 inches Tuesday. The total for the rainfall season, which runs July 1 through June 30, hit 21.4 inches. The Web site shows 3.24 inches as normal for this time of the season.
Vanderburg said other cumulative totals included 4.52 inches in Ramona, 7.49 inches in Fallbrook and 15.97 inches on Palomar Mountain.
"The big winner, as far as rainfall goes, is Lytle Creek in San Bernardino County at 29.69 inches," he said.
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