HIGHLAND (AP) — Leslie Constante burst into tears when she saw a red tag slapped on her parents’ garage in Highland, deeming it unsafe to enter.
“My mom and dad worked so hard for this,” said the 29-year-old pharmacy technician, wearing knee high rubber boots.
She couldn’t get inside to see how bad the damage was to Christmas presents and other belongings. Out front, two holiday reindeer were enveloped in mud several feet deep.
Many California residents who endured flooding, mudslides and evacuations during a weeklong onslaught of rain must now clean up or even rebuild — and some face the prospect of not being able to spend Christmas at home.
Southern Californians Tell KNX 1070 About How They Grapple With Muddy Christmas Cleanup
The storm’s push across the West left a muddy mess Thursday across Southern California and the threat of avalanches in Nevada, where Clark County officials urged residents of Mount Charleston, near Las Vegas, to leave after snow slides near two mountain hamlets.
Preliminary damage estimates throughout California were already in the tens of millions of dollars and expected to rise. A state of emergency was declared in a total of nine counties, including Los Angeles, Orange and Santa Barbara.
The inland region of Southern California east of Los Angeles emerged as among the hardest hit, especially San Bernardino County.
In Highland, people were literally chased from their homes by walls of mud and water, leaving behind dwellings strung with holiday lights. They returned Thursday to find their neighborhood inundated with mud. Five homes were destroyed and nearly 70 others damaged.
Highland officials estimated the storm caused $17.2 million damage to homes, cars and a bridge that was washed away.
Work crews tried to reopen more than a dozen canyon and mountain roads that were closed by slides and floods. Reopening times were listed simply as “unknown” for most.
Ibeth Garcia returned to her home surrounded by mud 4 feet deep to retrieve Christmas presents and clothes left behind when her family fled a dirty torrent.
“We left with just our shoes, cell phones and car keys,” said Garcia, 26. “We didn’t have time for anything else.”
They found a light coating of mud inside the house and considered themselves lucky — some neighboring homes were uninhabitable.
In neighboring Riverside County, the damage estimate was nearing $30 million. In Orange County, spokesman Howard Sutter issued a preliminary damage estimate of $23 million.
Along the coast in the county, the upscale community of Laguna Beach suffered an estimated $4 million in damage to 46 businesses and 20 homes.
A section of the city’s popular beachfront park was washed away, leaving chunks of mud and a gaping open space where green grass had been the day before.
Roads also remained a problem. Crews shut sections of Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles and Orange counties to remove loose rocks and clean up mudflow from hillsides. Further inland, rock and mudslides forced the closure of five state routes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The rain also washed trash, pesticides and bacteria into waterways, prompting health warnings. Four beaches were closed in Northern California’s San Mateo County, and another 12 miles of beach from Laguna Beach to San Clemente in Orange County were off-limits because of sewer overflows.
Curtis Duran, 45, and his two children strolled the trash-strewn beach in Long Beach and surveyed debris carried to the shoreline by the Los Angeles River.
Cans, baseballs, plastic bottles and even a baby’s high chair sat on the sand mixed with piles of discarded wood and shards of plastic. “We come down here all the time, and I’ve never seen so much,” Duran said.
Allison Lambert, information officer for health and human services, said preliminary damage estimates ranged beyond $60 million.
About 25 homes sustained damage in Kern County at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, while a highway through the Kern River canyon was expected to remain closed through the end of the year after “truck-sized rocks” were washed onto it, fire spokesman Sean Collins said.
(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)