By Brandon HENSLEY
To say it has been a while since Marcia Warfield Flannery stepped foot in La Crescenta would be an understatement the size of one of those boulders that came crashing into her home 77 years ago.
The floods on New Year’s Eve in 1933 ripped through the Crescenta Valley, devastating the area, taking lives and forever affecting those who survived.
Flannery is one of those survivors and last Saturday she told her story inside the La Crescenta Library community room, which marked the first time she had been back since the floods.
Flannery was joined by other survivors Bob Crowe, Vic Crowe, Joe Rakasits, Frank Virgalitto (who was there representing his dad Nick, who was too ill to attend), Betty Sweetnam, and Eloise Benson Nicholl. Each spent a couple of minutes sharing their experience before handing the microphone to Flannery.
She lived on Mayfield Avenue with her mother and father, an older and little brother, a housekeeper and her young daughter.
In the midst of the Depression, Flannery was 11 years old and had just had one of the best Christmases she could remember, receiving her first pair of shoes that had two-inch heels. Things seemed to be looking up, she said. “Oh my God, I thought I was in heaven.”
But a week later in the middle of the night, the floods came, full of water, rocks and mud, enough to move a small community.
Standing in the front doorway, “I turned and looked toward the back and this avalanche, I could see it coming and it sent us down. We went down with the house,” Flannery said.
She saved herself from being swept away by grabbing the tail of a horse. She was found naked and brought to the American Legion Hall, and when she said that, some people in the audience groaned because that Hall was soon doomed to collapse.
At the American Legion, she saw her dad across the room, holding her brother and the housekeeper’s daughter. It was a sweet moment, but it didn’t last long. The building began to shake, and Flannery saw the piano in the Hall crash through the wall as the place began to crumble.
Flannery had blacked out, and the next thing she remembered she was waking up underneath a boulder.
She paused, clearly shaken by the event still, and asked the audience, “Do you want to hear the rest of this?”
They responded with a resounding yes, then patiently waited as Flannery gathered herself.
After Flannery came out from under the boulder, she said couldn’t feel any pain. (She later learned that she had a broken ankle, a hole through one of her legs and several internal injuries.)
She spotted her father leaning up against a telephone pole, and saw her brother up to his hip in mud.
She saw a car, and dug the dirt away from the doors. Then, somehow, she dragged her father into the car.
“I don’t know how but I got him in the car,” she said. She did the same for her brother, and they all went in the car.
“At least we were out of the rain and snuggled together.”
Waiting for rescue while inside the car, Flannery said she flashed the lights and honked the horn until the battery died.
Soon, sunlight came. She looked over at her father and told him they had made it. When she got out of the car, “It was total devastation. There was nothing. I couldn’t see a thing,” she said.
Helpers came, and Flannery and her family were taken to hospitals. Her father had crushed his hip and never walked the same again. Her brother suffered minor injuries. The housekeeper and her daughter did not survive. Flannery said one of them was found wrapped around a telephone pole.
It took Flannery a year to recover, and the Red Cross helped set them up with a duplex. She wasn’t done with reminders though. A couple of years after the flood, she would find splinters, broken glass or nails that were lodged in her body making its way out of her.
Flannery is now the only member of her family left. She said she never got over what happened. Barely mentioned it to her grandchildren. I was in a flood, she would say, no big deal.
But Mike Lawler, president of the Historical Society, and Art Cobery found Flannery at her home in Oxnard, and got her to come down and speak, if just this one time.
“Treasure what you have, but take care of what you have,” said Flannery after telling her story.
The place on Mayfield, where her house used to be? It’s now a storm drain. Anything to wash away the memories.