For his 30-minute morning commute, Malibu filmmaker Jim
Oliver packs his briefcase, his lunch, and a suitcase containing
two changes of work clothes and pajamas.
"With all the roads to my house being closed for flooding,
mudslides, rockslides, I never know if I'll make it back at night,"
Miles south, in Culver City, Calif., Bill Stierle tiptoes
daily through his carpetless condo, where belongings are stacked on
shelves or cement blocks until rugs are dried and weatherstripping
is shored up.
"This is getting old," says Mr. Stierle, who stepped out of
his shower into 1-1/2 inches of ice-cold rainwater last week. "The
displacement of everything I own is making it hard to function."
As the overheated mass of Pacific current known as El Nino
continues to interrupt weather patterns worldwide, the constant
barrage of storm fronts is changing the daily living patterns
of people who are left in its wake. Besides the headline-making
disasters of homes crashing into the ocean and mudslides burying
garages, the relentless wet weather is altering - in an infinitude
of ways - how ordinary citizens work and play, rain or shine.
Since July, Los Angeles has received nearly twice the amount
of rainfall as normal by this time - 17.71 inches compared with
9.71 inches. That is already more than the wettest El Nino season
on record (1982-83), and officials caution rainfall could total
nearly 40 inches by May.
From water-soaked building lobbies and mud-sludgy parking
lots, to shorted-out elevators and blackened streetlights, the
cumbersome side effects of El Nino are everywhere. Neighbors and
co-workers have responded by pulling together against a common
challenge, boosting one another to endure the wearying loss of
taken-for-granted conveniences. Now they are bracing themselves for
what could be the biggest hit yet, expected to sweep the area after
"My own house and neighborhood are doing fine so far," says
Levon Wilkins, a North Hollywood construction worker, packing his
cheeks with eggs and ham at a local eatery. "But I've been an hour
late to work every day for a week behind car accidents, fallen
trees, rocks, you name it."
His comment roughly reflects how public officials
characterize damage regionwide. Isolated pockets of devastation in
coastal areas, hilly areas, and low-lying neighborhoods generate
great film footage for local TV stations, they say, but generally,
damage is at a minimum.
"Because the public has spent so much time preparing for
these storms, we feel the resulting damage overall has been slight
so far," says Steve Valenzuela of the Los Angeles County Fire
Department. "By being armed with sandbags, plastic, and plywood to
help divert water, many communities have largely escaped
Statewide, damages from storms total as much as $300 million
in 22 counties declared to be in states of emergency.
Here in the sprawl of Los Angeles, that land mass stuck
between desert and ocean, diverse neighborhoods are being affected
in different ways. …