Camarillo Springs mudslide victims dig out

As seen on the LATimes:

On the day after Jim Shiraishi’s home of 24 years was destroyed by a wall of mud and rocks that poured into his backyard in a burst of fury, all he could think about was finding his wallet and keys.

Shiraishi returned to his Camarillo Springs home over the weekend, after Friday’s mudslide trapped him and his wife, Grace, both 89, and their caregiver inside. Firefighters were able to break down the front door and rescue them.

“I need my wallet and keys so I can get my car,” said Shiraishi, pointing to the mud-stained garage door of his one-story home on San Como Lane.

His was one of 10 homes — seven on his street, three on another — that were red-tagged after a hill behind them collapsed, sending a torrent of mud, rocks and tree limbs into their yards and through their sliding glass doors. Piles of boulders, branches, pottery, old tires and furniture were strewn across their mud-covered yards. Garage doors were mangled and front windows blown out from their frames.

A few doors down from Shiraishi’s, huge rocks filled a living room nearly to the ceiling.

Over the weekend, residents and work crews began the task of cleaning up after the storm — the strongest to hit Southern California after three years of drought — as they prepared for more rain to roll in this week, beginning Monday.

On Saturday, under sunny skies, bulldozers and tractors rumbled up and down San Como Lane, moving dirt and debris as a steady stream of neighbors and homeowners surveyed the damage.

“It’s very surreal,” said Barbara Williams, president of the homeowners association. “It’s like a movie that’s so fantastic, you wouldn’t believe it.”

The Camarillo Springs neighborhood sits at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains’ northern edge, where several mudslides simultaneously spewed across the Pacific Coast Highway about nine miles away, trapping at least seven people in their cars just after 2 a.m. Friday. The road was closed through the weekend between Las Posas and Yerba Buena roads.

Neighbors in the community, where residents are 55 and older, said they never had any problems until a May 2013 brush fire burned away vegetation that normally anchors the soil. On Halloween night this year, a mudslide destroyed one home on San Como Lane and put everyone on notice that the hillside was vulnerable.

Since then, officials and homeowners have worked to shore up the mountain through grading and installing K-rails and sediment barriers before the next storm hit.

But on Friday about 2 a.m., San Como Lane turned into a churning river.

“It was like whitewater rapids down through here, said Phil Eads, of Murrieta, who owns a house that was red-tagged. He had gone to Camarillo Springs that night to look in on his renters. “It was awesome, in a bad way.”