Our Laguna: 2010 ends with water, water everywhere

December 30, 2010|By Barbara Diamond
  • Charlie and Ann Quilter step over a waterway below their cliffside home on Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach. Their home was destroyed by a mudslide in 1998; a neighbor inside was killed.
Charlie and Ann Quilter step over a waterway below their… (Don Bartletti,…)

El Niño was a bad, bad boy this year. He played some really nasty tricks on Laguna in the final weeks of 2010 — and it sure brought back memories of the 1998 mudslides.

Charlie and Ann Quilter were back in the news, but it was on a happier note — the Laguna Canyon home they built to replace the one destroyed in '98 was still standing after the Dec. 22 mudslides slithered around their home instead of through it — and Annie got through this storm with her clothes still on her back.

In 1998, she was swept out of her home on a sea of mud and dumped in the meadow across Laguna Canyon Road, starkers as the day she was born.

"I thought I was going to die a horrible death suffocated by mud and I had given myself up to God," Quilter said Tuesday. "When I came to a stop, I said to heck with this: I am getting out of here."


Unfortunately, the mud compressed the oil from the poison oak that covers the ground in the canyon and subsequently coated her. A couple of weeks later, the Quilter showed up at the Patriots Day Parade wearing red tights to disguise the lesions.

She was grateful to be alive, but truly upset by the lack of police and fire response to canyon dwellers in jeopardy.

"We were abandoned," Quilter said. "I didn't call for help because I knew no one would come."

But the city learns.

"It was very reassuring this time and comforting to see [City Manager] John Pietig everywhere up and down Laguna Canyon Road personally making sure Caltrans had enough workers on the road," Quilter said. "The city was out in full force."

In fact when Quilter, daughter Emily and her dog tried to evacuate, a police officer was stationed at the bottom of their driveway on Laguna Canyon Road. He instructed them not to try to cross the inundated road and to go back to the house, but Emily wasn't about to be in the house during another mudslide. Nope, not doing that, she told the officer. Nope. Forget it. He insisted, but then hesitated and asked, are you the Quilters? Yep. "OK, stay right where you are," the officer relented.

Although a massive amount of debris came down the hill in back of the Quilters' new home, the new construction and the diversion wall behind it did exactly what it was engineered to do, Quilter said.

Still, they didn't escape unscathed. Emily was pulling debris off the fence by hand at the Bluebelle Foundation property so the water could flow though instead of damming. The debris contained the poisonous leaves. Oh, dear.

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