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Mudslides sweep away cars, damage homes near Los Angeles

Mud and debris damaged a house Saturday in La Canada Flintridge, Calif. Wildfires in 2008 and 2009 stripped the hills of vegetation, making them prone to mudslides.

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Mud and debris damaged a house Saturday in La Canada Flintridge, Calif. Wildfires in 2008 and 2009 stripped the hills of vegetation, making them prone to mudslides.

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. — Thunderous mudslides damaged dozens of homes, swept away cars and pushed furniture into the streets of the foothills north of Los Angeles on Saturday as intense winter rain poured down mountains denuded by a summer wildfire.

No injuries were reported but residents and emergency responders were caught off guard by the unexpected ferocity of the storm, which damaged more than 40 homes and dozens of vehicles.

Five hundred homes were eventually evacuated at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains after heavy rains overflowed debris basins, carried away cement barricades and filled houses with mud and rocks.

Some residents complained they were not told to get out until the brunt of the damage was done — unlike during heavy rains last month when officials repeatedly warned foothill communities to be on alert.

"Nobody knew it was going to be this bad," said Katherine Markgraf, whose mother's house was filled with more than two feet of mud, debris and tangled tree roots. "Last time, they started warning us in time to prepare for it."

The storm's payload came between 4 and 5 a.m. Markgraf said she only got an alert around 10:30 a.m.

Los Angeles County fire inspector Matt Levesque said forecasters and county and city officials did not anticipate the magnitude of the slow-moving storm.

"If we had known there would have been this much rain we would have evacuated," Levesque said. "It was more rain than anyone thought, and more intense too. And it stalled there over the hillsides."

Rainfall totals topped 4 inches in a 24 hour period in some areas, the National Weather Service said.

Mudslides sweep away cars, damage homes near Los Angeles 02/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 6, 2010 11:10pm]

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