MOUNT BALDY, Calif. — They came with shovels, hands and heart to dig out their neighbors in the aftermath of deadly Southern California flooding.
Dozens of muddy volunteers attacked tons of muck left after flash floods sent dirt, rock and mud roaring down on the tiny mountain towns of Mount Baldy and Forest Falls east of Los Angeles — in some cases burying homes up to their roofs.
Joo Hwan Lee, 48, of El Segundo, was driving on a road on Mount Baldy when his car was smashed by a wave of mud and debris Sunday that swept the Toyota Prius 200 feet, authorities said. It smashed it up against boulders and a tree, with its windshield shattered and the inside filled with dirt. Lee died at the scene.
The floods stranded thousands of people, washed away and inundated cars and damaged about 30 homes, including a dozen that were uninhabitable in Mount Baldy and Forest Falls.
Roads to both places were ruled by bulldozers and other heavy equipment working under sunny skies Monday to clear mud and rocky debris.
But it was boots and backs that helped Gloria Flickinger dig out after a river of rock flowed into her Mount Baldy backyard. Two bearded men ferried wheelbarrows of stone and grime out of her backyard Monday.
Her rear entrance was buried nearly 2 feet in muck and her garage basement with laundry and school supplies for her special education class was flooded in ankle-deep water.
“I almost had a heart attack when I came home,” she said.
She was up until 3 a.m. trying to clean up the mess.
Pat Marks sat in the dirt and rock covering her driveway and dug her white Mini out of the muck with three helpers. She was trying to clear enough room so a loader could come remove the rest. She had been working since the rain stopped late Sunday afternoon.
“I hope to get the mud out before it turns to concrete,” she said.
Brief but fierce storms dumped nearly 5 inches of rain on Mount Baldy and as much as 3½ inches on Forest Falls some 50 miles away, the National Weather Service said.
George Smith of San Diego had been hiking up Mount San Gorgonio with a friend when they came to a wash that had been dry earlier in the day.
“We were just kind of deciding should we make a go of it, to cross or not, when there was a 10-foot high wall of water and debris and logs coming toward us,” he said. “It sounded like thunder coming down the river. Me and my friend had to scramble up a cliff to get out of the way of it.”
Doug Roath, a 48-year-old tree trimmer who has lived in Forest Falls for 15 years, lost his chain saws and other items to a swollen river while his rented house was uninhabitable and his mountain bike was bent in half.
Friends on Monday went looking for his lost goods in the now-dry river, while a neighbor gave him $200 to fix his chain saws, another donated $300 and yet another shoveled mud, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported.
Martha Foster, 60, brought burritos from a restaurant, El Mexicano.
“When I found out everyone was here digging, I went to the Mex,” Foster told the paper. “I know these guys and I know they weren’t eating. I’m not good at digging, but I’m good at food.”
“When the (going gets tough), they all help,” Roath said.
The week’s forecast called for sunny skies in Southern California but showers and thunderstorms were possible Tuesday in Nevada and New Mexico.