Mandatory Evacuations Remain for San Gabriel Valley Foothill Communities

By Andrew Lopez and Gadi Schwartz
|  Friday, Feb 28, 2014  |  Updated 7:38 AM PDT
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As a strong system struck down in Southern California Friday, mandatory evacuations remained in Glendora and Azusa. Officials were concerned that possible mudslides and debris flow could damage the nearly 1,000 homes in the evacuation zone. Toni Guinyard reports live for Today in LA on Friday, Feb. 28, 2014.

As a strong system struck down in Southern California Friday, mandatory evacuations remained in Glendora and Azusa. Officials were concerned that possible mudslides and debris flow could damage the nearly 1,000 homes in the evacuation zone. Toni Guinyard reports live for Today in LA on Friday, Feb. 28, 2014.

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Mandatory evacuations are still in effect for the San Gabriel Valley foothill communities of Glendora and Azusa as a strong storm system pounds parts of Southern California.

Despite sunny blue skies behind the first storm, mandatory evacuation orders were issued Thursday for about 1,000 homes in two of Los Angeles' eastern foothill suburbs beneath nearly 2,000 acres of steep mountain slopes left bare by a January fire.

Flash flood warnings were in effect Friday as weather officials braced for periods of heavy rains and possible thunderstorms through Saturday night.

The neighborhood was burned in January’s Colby fire, forcing residents to stack sandbags around their properties for protection from possible mudslides and debris flows as the rain moistens the hillsides.

Azusa police made the decision for evacuations after speaking with National Weather Service representatives and city officials. Hard street closures were placed in effect  and city officials urged residents to leave early on Thursday.

"Make final preparations to secure their homes, get their personal items in order and leave as quickly as possible," Glendora City Manager Chris Jeffers said.

Some residents, however, have decided to stay put, despite the evacuation orders.

“I think (the city has) done a great job preparing,” Glendora resident Dale Ellsworth said.

Ellsworth's grandmother was living in Glendora during a 1969 stom in which lives were lost and 30 homes were destroyed.

"Those were longer floods, longer rains and heavier rains. We didn't have sandbags, there was nothing we just played it by ear. Helped each other,” Doreen Ellsworth said of the 1969 mud flows.

As of Thursday night, the city of Glendora was out of sandbags but more are expected to arrive Friday morning. The city also has engineered drainage ponds and emergency k rails in place.

"The city learned a tremendous lesson, they really did," Doreen Ellsworth said.

An evacuation center was set up at the Crowther Teen & Family Center located at 241 W. Dawson Ave.

Extra officers were going to be patrolling the affected neighborhood to prevent criminal activity while residents were away from their home.

In Ventura County, the threat of a strong weather system was placing firefighters on high alert in areas affected by last year's Spring fire, which burned 24,000 acres of land near Camarillo Springs, Newbury Park and Cal State Channel Islands. 

Mike Lindbery, spokesman for the Ventura County Fire Department, warned that the burned areas could be susceptible to mudslides and flooding.

"If you start getting water flowing into your structure, don’t hesitate. Call 911," Lindbery said.

While concern was highest in the Glendora-Azusa area, meteorologists also posted flood watches for many other areas denuded by fires over the past two years. The National Weather Service warned of possible rainfall rates of 1 to 2 inches an hour as well as waterspouts offshore and small tornados when the next storm moves through the state Friday.

California's precipitation totals are far below normal and it will take a series of drenching storms to make a dent in a statewide drought that is among the worst in recent history.

The state Department of Water Resources took a new survey of the Sierra Nevada snowpack and found the water content at only 24 percent of average for the date. The northern and central Sierra snowpack normally provides about a third of the water used by California's cities and farms.

The Associated Press and NBC4's Jonathan Lloyd contributed with this report.

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