Human Factor of Natural Disaster

In Independence Tuesday night, community members packed the legion hall to talk about what to do after the major floods knocked out homes in Oak Creek.

Representatives from county agencies, the federal government, the Red Cross and the state Office of Emergency Services were there to let people know what the agencies could do for them.

Groups like IMACA and the Red Cross could provide food or clothing to people who lost everything to the mud, but as the meeting progressed it became clear that what people wanted was heavy equipment to dig out their belongings.

Oak Creek resident Don Bright led the charge. His family ranch is gone now, completely “erased from the face of the earth,” as he put it. Bright described how family belongings were now spread out over a mile or more. Bright said that he found a book that belonged to his grandmother in the fish hatchery, but other belongings that would be useful now, like tractors and cars are buried and possibly leaking into the aquifer.

With what he called the “immense job” of digging out, Bright asked the authorities at the meeting if there were any heavy equipment or other help available.

Sheriff Bill Lutze explained that removing personal property was up to the property owner and their insurance company.

Other Oak Creek residents who lost everything also asked for equipment and boots on the ground to help dig out. Sharon Avey said that the mud came from the county and forest service land. She asked them to “kindly take it back.”

Another mentioned that Oak Creek itself had shifted, making any clean up difficult until the stream gets put back into its channel. The Sheriff said that the Army Corp of Engineers, had been notified of that.

A Forest Service Employee was grilled by residents of Oak Creek for not notifying the home owners of the elevated risk of flood due to the fire damage, though the hatchery was apparently notified of the risk.

Frustration from some was apparent, but there was humor at the meeting as well.

Keith Bright, who lost everything when the flood washed his home and ranch away in the Oak Creek drainage, described having now received the largest rock garden in Inyo County. He said that “we had been chosen to have a fire and then a flood to finish it up.” He asked those in attendance to hold on to their hats and make preparations for the Earthquake.

There was talk of using local civic club fundraiser money to rent a bulldozer or backhoe. The representative from the state office of emergency services said he thought that the state might be able to help with that as well.

In the meantime, the clean up from this event continues in Independence.

Caltrans reported today that clean-up on Highway 395 was about complete with the highway expected to re-open in both lanes either tonight or tomorrow. The streambed gone wild with the flood has come back under some control with a small stretch of stream water along the highway.


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