Family joins search for man swept away during Calif. flood

A Los Angeles County firefighter use a front end loader to clear mud on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015, after a flash floods the day before sent mud and debris through Elizabeth Lake road in Leona Valley, Calif., trapping cars and closing roads. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Richard Harvell saw the mud and water coming and knew he had to get out of the flash-flood zone where he’d been camping at the foot of the Tehachapi Mountains.

He almost made it.

Harvell, 67, was knocked off his feet by a boulder and swept away by mud and water as he tried to climb into his truck Thursday while a ferocious thunderstorm sent mud, water and debris down a mountainside, inundating roads, homes and vehicles.

Family and friends have joined a Kern County Sheriff’s Department rescue team in searching for him since Friday, their efforts sometimes interrupted by bad weather.

On Monday the team brought out cadaver dogs, Harvell’s daughter Susan Garcia told The Associated Press. But she added that she, her five siblings and their mother are holding out hope he’s alive.

“We’re not going to give up hope until they find him one way or another,” she said, adding her father, a Vietnam War veteran, knew how to survive in the rugged desert area near Boron, where he’s lived for years.

“He’s definitely able to live off the grid if he had to,” she said. “If it’s possible for someone to survive this it would be him.”

Teams searched the foot of the Tehachapi Mountains, in the open desert near communities hit hard by mudslides. The area, which saw up to 6 feet of muck come down, is south of State Route 58 in Tehachapi, where Thursday’s powerful thunderstorms triggered massive debris flows that trapped more than 100 cars, buses, RVs and big-rig trucks.

This undated photo provided by the Harvell family shows Richard Harvell, 67, of Boron, Calif., in the Mojave Deseert 70 miles north of Los Angeles. Friends and family members have joined authorities in searching for Harvell, apparently swept away during flash flooding that inundated California homes and roads last week. Kern County sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said Monday that Richard Harvell of Boron was last seen Thursday evening, Oct, 15, while trying to save his truck from a torrent of mud. Pruitt says Harvell's truck was later found a short distance away in the Rosamond area. (Courtesy Harvell Family via AP)
This undated photo provided by the Harvell family shows Richard Harvell, 67, of Boron, Calif., in the Mojave Deseert 70 miles north of Los Angeles. (Courtesy Harvell Family via AP)

Garcia said her father and a boyhood friend were camping in the area when they saw the water rapidly rising. Harvell left his camping trailer to try get in his truck and move to safer ground. His friend watched helplessly as he was washed away.

On Monday crews hauled away the last of the trapped vehicles, but tons of hardened mud still needs to be removed before traffic starts flowing again, officials said.

Drainage systems also needed to be cleared along an 8-mile stretch of the highway about 80 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, said Florene Trainor, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation. Officials hope to reopen the highway by Thursday at the latest.

Geologists determined that nearby hillsides were stable, so there were no fears of another mudslide if it started raining again, Caltrans officials said. The area got some weekend drizzle, but no serious rain, and a dry period was developing, forecasters said.

To the south, Los Angeles County crews reopened stretches of five roads in mountain communities about 40 miles north of Los Angeles that also were inundated during the flooding.

The reopening Sunday came “well ahead of original forecasts,” with more than 40 bulldozers, dump trucks and other heavy equipment working through the weekend to shift an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of mud, according to a Los Angeles County Public Works statement. Work continued on two other roads in the Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth areas.

Nearly 3 inches of rain fell in 30 minutes Thursday in the Leona Valley area of Los Angeles County, the National Weather Service said. Hundreds of cars also got stuck on Interstate 5, a major artery, but those vehicles were removed and the freeway reopened late Friday.

Homeowners in northern Los Angeles County communities spent their weekend digging mud out of their houses.

At least one of the homes in the area is considered a total loss after flooding ripped it from its foundation, Kerjon Lee, a spokesman for county Public Works, said Saturday. Crews were assessing homes in the area, and Lee said the number of those destroyed could rise.

To the east, severe weather hit Nevada and Arizona on Sunday. Wind damaged buildings and knocked down trees and utility poles in the Phoenix area, while many miles of U.S. Highway 95 linking Las Vegas and Reno were closed due to flooding from south of Tonopah to north of Goldfield. State Route 267 between the California state line and U.S. 95 also remained closed.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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