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California Residents Bracing For More Mudslides


Parts of Southern California are bracing for mudslides as the rain pours down today. We're talking about the same area where wildfires late last year destroyed a lot of the hillside foliage - trees and brush that would help prevent mudslides like the one that killed at least 21 people back in January. That's when we first spoke with Rita Bourbon of Montecito. She regretted defying evacuation orders and staying in her home as debris came down from a nearby mountain. And she noted that was only the beginning of the rainy season.


RITA BOURBON: I don't know what's next. That whole mountain did not come down. There's plenty of mountain to come down again. So - and I will leave when we get evacuated. That's a given. You remind me if I forget to. Call me please and say get out (laughter). Yeah.


CHANG: Now Bourbon has been following her own advice. Whenever the weather gets bad, she gets out. She's currently staying with a friend in Beverly Hills where we reached her today. Hey, Rita.


CHANG: So you have evacuated because of this storm, or you're just hanging out right now?

BOURBON: Oh, no. I'm evacuated. This is the fourth evacuation since January (unintelligible)...


BOURBON: ...Or maybe it's including. I've lost track. I just evacuate. If they say, we recommend it, I get out. I mean, there's just no point in taking a chance. After what I went...

CHANG: Yeah.

BOURBON: ...Through, I realize Mother Nature is very powerful. And I can't change anything about that. I can't do anything about that, so I go.

CHANG: What kind of...


CHANG: ...Conditions is your area expecting this time around because of this storm?

BOURBON: Well, you know, just driving up to my house, I can look at the mountains. And I can see the boulders sitting, teeter-tottering. That's the way it looks.

CHANG: Oh, my God.

BOURBON: And it's still full of ash, and we have chaparral which makes it into this glossy surface. So the water just runs off, which picks up the boulders. And if there's ash, if there's mud, it brings it down. Now, that doesn't mean it's definitely going to happen.

CHANG: Yeah.

BOURBON: Our creeks have been cleaned out, you know, magnificently. They - and I've been getting pictures of the runoff, and everything's working just fine. So, you know, I - you have to stay hopeful, so of course I'm hopeful.

CHANG: Yeah. When we spoke to you back in January, you told us about what a tremendously difficult time it was. Someone extremely close to you had just been killed during one...


CHANG: ...Of the mudslides.

BOURBON: Oh, yes.

CHANG: Have any of your neighbors decided to just move out permanently?

BOURBON: Yes, one directly across the street from me next to the Rohters.

CHANG: The Rohters - Mr. Rohter was the one who passed away.

BOURBON: Mr. Rohter was the one who passed away. And the other neighbor - they were in their house also. He was trapped by furniture and mud. And by the grace of God - seriously, by the grace of God - because if the mud had moved up a few more inches, he would - it would've collapsed his lungs. But he got out. He was carried out - his wife, four dogs. And they don't want to come back, and I can't blame them.

CHANG: It doesn't sound like you have any intention of permanently leaving your neighborhood.

BOURBON: Oh, no. Oh, no.

CHANG: Why not? Why not?

BOURBON: Why not? Well, I'm not in a position to leave financially. My house has probably gone down a good 40 percent of its worth, and it's a family home.

CHANG: What are you going to be doing tonight? 'Cause tonight's going to be the brunt of the storm.

BOURBON: Yeah. Well, my wonderful neighbor Tom Boley (ph) has a camera facing towards our shared fence and facing - which then faces towards my property, at least part of it, where the mudslide would most likely come. In fact, he just texted me and said so far, so good.


BOURBON: So I'll keep in touch with him and just, you know, do my best to just breathe through it. There's nothing I can do.

CHANG: Rita Bourbon, thank you very much for speaking with us.

BOURBON: Yes, and thank you. I want to thank you very much for checking back with me.

CHANG: That's Rita Bourbon of Montecito, Calif. She's hoping to return to her home after the rain stops.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.