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Residents dig out after '500-year rain'

A Sunday afternoon thunderstorm roared through the Claremont area quickly, but it surely packed a punch that caught many people in the area off guard.

The Claremont Police Department received many calls from residents, reporting floods in the northern portion of the city following a period of heavy rain. Officers reported to the intersection of Padua Avenue and Alamosa where they found mud and debris in the roadway. City crews were called to clear the rocks and debris with a tractor.

“The storm last night was an unusual occurrence where we experienced heavy rainfall in a short period of time which led to the debris in the streets and drainage system throughout the affected areas,” said Assistant City Manager, Colin Tudor. “However, thankfully at this time it appears damage to public property was minimal.”

By Monday morning, city crews were out in the area assessing the damage on and cleaning the debris from roadways. While some debris remains on many streets in the northern sections of Claremont, all streets remain open and passable. Some limited damage to private property, such as a chain link fence surrounding a property on Mt. Baldy Road near Via Padova, had also been reported.

All reported damage is being collected and evaluated by the city.

Nearby Mt. Baldy residents suffered a much different consequence as a result of the storm. A flash flood moved quickly through the mountain community, sending a sudden river of water and debris down neighborhood streets and into homes.

“When they say flash flood, they really mean it,” says 7-year resident Brian Daniels. “It all seemed to happen within 60 seconds. Propane tanks we’re coming down the street, it was like something out of a movie. I haven’t ever seen anything like this.”

Mr. Daniels lives on Bear Drive, a quaint mountain road that was under at least two feet of mud on Monday. The nearby creek and bridge that fronts his home became a river on Sunday afternoon, taking everything in its path downstream.

“That car right there,” said Mr. Daniels, pointing to an Audi that was swept away by the water and lays resting in the creek, “That car sounded like thunder when it hit the bridge. We didn’t know if someone was in it or not and we tried to break every window, but it’s safety glass. Thankfully, a nearby fireman was able to get in through the sunroof and the car was empty.”

Mr. Daniels worked alongside his neighbors and volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Rancho Cucamonga to dig out vehicles in the area hit most severely by the storm.

El Segundo resident Joohwan Lee was driving northbound on Bear Canyon Road when his vehicle was caught in the flash flood. The force of the mud and debris pushed his vehicle 200 feet south on Bear Canyon Road where it then came to rest against a tree.

According to a press release from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, deputies patrolling nearby located Mr. Lee’s vehicle, and with the assistance of the San Bernardino County Fire Department, the 48-year-old was extricated. However, Mr. Lee succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department San Dimas Sheriff’s Station responded and assumed control of the investigation.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), Mt. Baldy received close to 4 inches of rain in just over one hour late Sunday. The NWS categorized this storm as a 500-year rain event.

The thunderstorm surprised not only residents, but Ravi and Mansa Patna, a brother and sister who had been hiking on Devil’s Backbone when they became separated from their parents. Realizing they were lost and not dressed for inclement weather, they called for help around 6 p.m. and San Bernardino County Search and Rescue responded.

The pair were located around 11:30 p.m. by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s 40King 3 crew, members of the department’s aviation division. With thunderstorms overhead, the crew directed Search and Rescue ground teams to the victims’ location for rescue but because of the steep terrain, a night vision hoist rescue was implemented instead.

A ground Search and Rescue volunteer, who was injured during a fall in the rescue attempt, was also airlifted and transported to a local hospital for treatment. Her injuries were non-life threatening.

A second rescue team was assembled on Monday when a call came into Los Angeles County Fire at 11:58 a.m. of a reported person in distress in the Bear Canyon area, near Mt. Baldy and Glendora Ridge roads.

“A couple reported hearing someone shouting for help,” said Los Angeles Battalion Chief Ellis. “It’s unknown if the person in distress was male, female or a child.”

More than 20 Los Angeles County firefighters from Claremont and Pomona as well as Urban Search and Rescue from Pico Rivera conducted an active search by both ground and by air, but the search was called-off shortly after 4 p.m. when the person in question was not located.

Mt. Baldy Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bill Stead is a longtime resident of Mt. Baldy, having lived in the mountain town on and off since 1936. As a 45-year-member of the fire department, he’s seen a lot of things happen in this community but the destruction of Sunday’s storm is one of the biggest in recent history.

“There are about 30 houses that have been red-flagged as uninhabitable, 15 in the homeowners track and another 15 or so in the private track,” said Mr. Stead. “The last time something this big happened was in 1969 and it took us a while to recover from it, but we did and we’ll do it again.” Many residents in this small mountain town, including Robin Riggle, echo that sentiment.

“We’ve been through floods and blizzards,” said Ms. Riggle. “The beauty of living in this community is we always pull together and help one another. This time will be no different.”

—Angela Bailey



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