A storm of accusations

By Jim Chase

I can’t begin to imagine the stress, heartbreak, frustration, panic or anguish that must come from helplessly watching as a river of mud, rocks, trees and other destructive debris flow with unstoppable force through your home. Or what it must feel like to see a car you still make monthly payments on float down the street, colliding with 4,000-pound k-rails like so much flotsam and jetsam.

I make this disclaimer having watched the coverage last Saturday morning of the extensive flooding and damage caused by our latest El Niño-spawned storm. Watching on TV, I was saddened (but not terribly surprised) by how some of the unfortunate residents in the affected area reacted when interviewed about the awful event. To a person, they were angry that no one had told them to leave their homes – no Sheriff or Police officers, no city or county officials, no CHP or Firefighters, Boy or Girl Scouts, palm readers or fortune tellers.

For most of Saturday morning, the only TV coverage of the disaster in our backyards was provided by the KCBS Sky2 chopper skillfully piloted by Crescenta Valley resident, Larry Welk. (Why channels 4, 5, 7, 9 and 11 were missing-in-action is anyone’s guess. KABC finally showed up around lunchtime.) At sometime in the morning, CBS reporter Randy Paige, along with a cameraman, hitched a ride on a Sheriff’s rig to the top of Ocean View to shoot “boots-on-the-ground” footage of storm damage as well as to interview affected homeowners. After hiking back downhill to their CBS news van on Foothill, the uploaded footage was put on the air, raw and unedited. (I’m sure everyone in the control room at KCBS was dying to broadcast something – anything – besides more aerial footage looking down on dirty brown streets, filled-to-the-rim debris basins and emergency workers the size of ants.)

On the tape that was broadcast repeatedly, in addition to the requisite scenes of partially buried cars and boulders deposited inside garages, reporter Paige interviewed several residents about their own impressions of the storm, the damage it had caused to their property, and finally, whether or not they had received any warnings or notification to evacuate. The homeowners were shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you, that nobody had come around to wake them up and force them to leave.

Watching these understandably upset people (urged on by a reporter adept at encouraging grief and pathos), I recalled interviews only a couple of weeks ago showing local residents who were angry and frustrated that authorities had issued so many evacuation orders. “They’re crying wolf,” said more than one hillside homeowner in January when relatively little damage was caused by three successive storms. “How many times can we take them seriously when they tell us to pack up and leave?”

And then last week’s storm blew into town. A “minor” event by many forecasters’ predictions. Like most locals, I went to bed Friday night thinking the rain would be light throughout the night. However, when our dogs woke me up at four o’clock in the morning, panicked by flashes of lightening and the roar of thunder and rain pummeling our house, it sounded as if our roof would implode under the downpour.

Throughout Saturday, as the anchorman with his tan-in-a-can visage repeatedly replayed the interviews of residents decrying the lack of evacuation notice and wondered dramatically how such a mistake could have been made by authorities, I had a question of my own. Why isn’t at least one finger of incompetence being pointed at the broadcasters with their multi-million-dollar Doppler doo-dads and high-tech hoo-hahs – along with their certified, sanctified and Emmy-fied meteorologist/weather personalities who failed to predict the severity of the storm that pounded us last weekend?

I’m just saying, how in the world could the authorities have predicted an evacuation-worthy storm if all the weather wizards armed with their technology and button-popping blouses couldn’t do it? I’ll see you ‘round town.

Jim Chase is a lifelong CV resident and freelance writer. He can be reached at  jim@wordchaser.com