Woman rescued from flash flood

The California Coastal Commission issued emergency development permits last week to allow boulders to be placed in front of houses on Broad Beach, a stretch of severely eroded coastline.

Local wildlife suffers from storm effects, and a huge barge unmoored by the storm threatened the coastline as well.

By Olivia Damavandi / Assistant Editor

Last week’s storm brought a deluge of dramatic events, including the climactic rescue of a woman in her car who was swept away by a flash flood, and an unmanned, 10-ton bait barge that threatened beachfront homes along Pacific Coast Highway.

The rough weather also wiped out numerous sea birds, and spurred the erosion of many local beaches, further jeopardizing the stability of homes and public accessways. And while the torrential rain and hail resulted in fewer car collisions than expected, one driver found herself swimming for her life in a creek that is usually no more than two inches deep.

Upon arriving at her home in Triunfo Canyon, located near the fishing venue Troutdale off of Kanan Dume Road, last Wednesday, 31-year-old Amanda Kusovich debated whether to drive through a creek, which is normally at a trickle, to enter her driveway, despite the noticeable increase in water level.

After witnessing a pickup truck successfully forge the creek, Kusovich said she assumed it was safe for her to do the same. So she put her 2000 Jeep Wrangler in four-wheel drive and began to traverse the creek. But once halfway across, a sudden surge of water turned the creek into a roaring river that swept the vehicle up with it.

“I was really surprised at how deep it got, because after 30 seconds my car started sinking,” Kusovich said in a phone interview Monday. “The front end of my car started tipping downward. I could feel water on my feet and all of a sudden I was sitting in water to my waist.”

With five inches of the car left above water, Kusovich rolled down her manual window and managed to escape. But her struggle wasn’t over, as she continued to be swept further downstream by the tremendous current, the threat of being crushed by the car following her all the while.

“I remember trying to swim with all my might and it made no dent,” she said, estimating the depth of the water at six to eight feet. “Swimming didn’t matter. I couldn’t touch the ground.”

While crying out for help, Kusovich realized she was quickly approaching a bridge. The water level that day was high enough to flow over the bridge, as opposed to normal days when the creek flowed well below it. Five employees of the neighboring Mike Edrick horse stable heard her cries and stood atop the bridge, hoping it would barricade the current. One of the employees, 34-year-old Adolfo Gonzalez, cast his scarf into the river. Kusovich seized it, but could not battle the torrent that pushed her up against the bridge and eventually pulled her down under it, before the same happened to her car.

She popped up on the other side of the bridge and at that point said she had been swept downstream about 300 yards when Gonzalez dove into the river, grabbed her arm and helped guide her to an area where the current was not as strong, before pulling her out.

“I just did [it] because she was in danger and the only thing I thought to do was to save her,” Gonzalez said in Spanish, Tuesday in a phone interview. “I’m thankful I was there to help her. I hope that one day if I am in the same situation, someone will be there to help me.”

Kusovich is currently in negotiations with her insurance company over the totaled Jeep. From the experience she said, “I learned to always buy a car with manual windows.”

Los Angeles County lifeguards also witnessed the effects of powerful currents last week when stormy ocean conditions unanchored a 10-ton, unmanned bait barge from its normal location at Malibu Pier, L.A. Lifeguard Captain Dan Atkins said Monday in a phone interview.

The barge broke free and made its way south, threatening the beachfront homes along Pacific Coast Highway, whose residents frantically called lifeguards for help.

“The storm was so fierce, there was literally nothing we could do but keep people away from [the barge],” Atkins said. “Luckily, it didn’t harm any homes despite high tides and big surf that pushed it along.”

Atkins added that 10-foot waves washed into the parking lot at Zuma Beach, which, along with many local beaches, underwent significant erosion. The California Coastal Commission last week issued emergency development permits to allow boulders to be placed in front of houses on Broad Beach, a stretch of severely eroded coastline. The ongoing erosion has created a high risk for leach fields, located in front of beachfront houses, to be washed away.

All three public accessways to Lechuza Beach were closed last week, as erosion removed enough sand to leave the last step of beach access stairwells several feet above the ground.

The storm also wreaked havoc on sea birds. The California Wildlife Center last week was bombarded with pelicans, cormorants and grebes that had sustained storm-related injuries such as fractured wings. Others were cold and emaciated, Cindy Reyes, CWC executive director, said Monday in a phone interview.

Reyes said pelicans are especially vulnerable to storm-related injuries, possibly because El Nino conditions have exacerbated their health.

“There’s an event going on with pelicans right now, we think it’s related to El Nino,” Reyes said. “During El Nino, ocean temperatures go up, fish go to colder waters, and pelicans don’t get enough food. They are weak and under weight, making it that much more difficult for them to survive during a storm.”

Threats of more rain Tuesday did not bring as much as last week’s storms, with only light drizzle by

6 p.m.