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From Canyon To Cove: Flooding sets animal facilities afloat

January 06, 2011|By Cindy Frazier
  • Staff member Kirsten Sedlick continues to dig out mud from recent storms at the marine mammal center, this time from freshwater pools outside.
Staff member Kirsten Sedlick continues to dig out mud… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

Editor's Note: This corrects an earlier version.

Some of Laguna Beach's most cherished institutions — shelter for neglected, abused or abandoned pets and respite for stranded sea mammals — were among those most damaged by the Dec. 22 flooding that inundated Laguna Canyon Road.

Laguna Beach Animal Shelter sustained some $800,000 in damages, according to police estimates.

Ben Plonski, owner of Kaguna Koi Ponds, said he doesn't know the extent of the damage yet, but he lost much of his prized Japanese fish stock as well as other mainstays of his pond-building business. His business will be closed for at least two to four weeks more while he tries to fix his damaged floors and get back to normal.

Animals are especially vulnerable in a major emergency, as seen by the fact that the only deaths reported from the Dec. 22 deluge were those of a rabbit and two chickens at the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter. Eight cats and an equal number of dogs were successfully evacuated, according to shelter officials.

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The nearby Pacific Marine Mammal Center was hit from two sides: the raging Laguna Creek inundated the property, tearing out a whalebone display, washing away three feet of land and pushing the two-room gift shop off its foundation 30 to 40 feet downstream. On the other side of the property, mudslides filled the outdoor pens and pools with dirt and debris, and pushed sheds and fencing around like tinker toys.

The power of the normally placid creek that morning was astonishing. The whalebones, a 22-foot-long span from a blue whale — so heavy they weren't even bolted down to the stands on which they were placed — were recovered in the creek, said spokeswoman Melissa Sciacca.

As for the marine mammals, I was wondering just how the rescuers were able to handle these large and sometimes ferocious creatures — they are, after all, lions of the sea — in the midst of a crisis, but Sciacca said the operation went smoothly.

Fortunately, there were only three patients in the center: one sea lion and two elephant seals. The marine mammals were rescued from four feet of water that filled the barn after the early morning deluge. Police allowed workers inside the property at 7 a.m., after the water had dissipated.

"The animals were covered in mud, but not swimming in any water at the time," Sciacca said. "It was not overly difficult to evacuate the animals. With only three to maneuver, they cooperated fairly well and were evacuated as quickly as possible."

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