Storm wreaks havoc across Malibu

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CHP Sgt. Walter Field stands next to a 300-ton boulder that fell onto Topanga Canyon Boulevard one mile north of Pacific Coast Highway Sunday, closing off traffic to the canyon. The boulder was partially shattered late Tuesday after 6-foot holes were drilled into it and low-yield explosives inserted. It is not determined when the boulevard will reopen. Photo by Barreta / TMT

The storm blasts the Southland with heavy rain, causing mudslides and rock falls, closing off main arteries to Malibu. A man dies in a Pacific Coast Highway accident near Big Rock. Another man dies in Topanga Creek.

By Johalmo Morales/Special to The Malibu Times

The blue skies seen early this week were a sigh of relief from the heavy showers that have pounded the Southland in a series of storms since mid-December that have caused massive rock falls and mudslides, flooding and accidents that claimed lives.

Authorities are currently investigating an accident that took place around 7:30 a.m. Sunday on Pacific Coast Highway near Big Rock, leaving one man dead. It is unclear as to whether the car hydroplaned or hit mud before causing damage to a telephone pole and landing in the surf.

Two Los Angeles County Lifeguards from the Swiftwater Rescue Team, Remy Smith and Tom Barnett, and firefighters from Fire Station 70 responded to the scene. Firefighter Specialist Rick Shima said when they found the car it had gone off an embankment with the tires underwater parallel to Pacific Coast Highway, and was being pounded by the incoming ocean waves. “One of the guys [a victim] was about four or five houses down [in the ocean] and all we could see was the white shirt coming up and down,” Shima said. The morning high tide made the rescue more difficult for lifeguards and firefighters, and after some time they could see a body floating in the water. Shima said the victim had a pulse but was not breathing when rescued, and probably had taken in too much water.

Lt. Randall Dickey of the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station said there were five passengers in the car, including the driver. Officials say they believe the man found dead had been in the rear, middle-seat and was ejected from the car. His body was found 500 feet from the accident. It is not known if he was wearing a seat belt. The four other passengers complained of pain and were treated and released.

Another man reportedly died after being dared to wade into Topanga Creek. His body was found later wedged into a tree.

The beginning of this week was no better, roads along Pacific Coast Highway were closed due to rock or mud slides. Topanga Canyon Boulevard was closed initially because of fallen debris, and later due to a huge boulder almost the height of a power line post and a width that blocked both lanes that fell about one mile up from Pacific Coast Highway. The boulder reportedly weighed 300 tons.

Caltrans spokeswoman Judy Gish said early Tuesday that employees were working with contractors to remove the boulder. They planned to drill into the rock and inject an expanding gel, which would cause the boulder to shatter. However, it was reported Tuesday evening that after 6-foot holes were drilled into the boulder, low-yield explosives were used to partially blow up the boulder. It is not known whether the expanding gel was used. An earlier attempt to dynamite the boulder failed due to heavy saturation from the rain. It was unknown at press time when the boulevard would be reopened.

Malibu Canyon Road on both sides has been closed since Sunday evening due to mud and rock slides south of the tunnel. As of Tuesday afternoon, it was not determined when it would be reopened. With Topanga Canyon also closed, the only way to get in and out of Malibu to the rest of greater Los Angeles was to take Kanan Dume Road in western Malibu to the 101 Freeway, or to take Pacific Coast Highway to the 10 Freeway, which was slow going due to slides and the McClure Tunnel being flooded.

On Pacific Coast Highway near Las Flores Beach, a mudslide knocked down a power line, and caused the closure of two lanes of the highway. A resident of Las Flores Beach said she heard rumbling and witnessed the slow moving mud cover the street and knock down the utility pole, which Edison fixed within an hour. The same resident said she had to board up the front of her home that faced the ocean to protect it from incoming waves and a very high tide. The seawall next to her home had been washed away.

On Rambla Vista, a portion of a hillside broke through a retaining wall, taking with it part of the concrete that covered it. Also this weekend, the bridge at Serra Retreat was completely underwater.

Lifeguards also “received numerous calls regarding young adults rafting on Zuma Creek and Trancas Creek after the earthen dam [in Trancas Creek] broke,” said Los Angeles County Lifeguard Capt. Nick Steers.

Steers said that lifeguards asked the men to get out of the creek, but they refused. Sheriff’s deputies later responded and got the men out, taking them away in a deputy car. It is not known whether they were cited.

Mudslides on Corral Canyon, Encinal Canyon and Las Flores Canyon Road took place this weekend, said city officials Richard Calvin and Brad Davis, and cleanup around the city is ongoing.

Since the beginning of this latest storm, the National Weather Service posted flash flood warnings in and around Malibu. Steers said 6.02 inches of rain has fallen in Malibu and coastal areas since Friday. The Weather Service forecasts mostly sunny skies through Thursday and mostly clear weather through Tuesday, Jan. 18.

Due to the weather and road closures, schools in Malibu were closed on Monday and opened again Tuesday.