This story originally was posted at Team Rubicon on Jan. 30, 2019. Null Gravity’s Co-founder and Chief Photographer, Jonathen E. Davis, was Team Rubicon’s public information officer and photographer after heavy storms caused mudslides in the Robinhood Estates neighborhood in Lake Elsinore, Calif., in January 2019. Jonathen wrote and photograph the story that same day as he felt this story could give an insight into a homeowner’s thoughts about needing to evacuate a scene.
The automated emergency alert system’s synthetic voice informed homeowner Joan Heasley to find shelter elsewhere until the heavy storm had passed.
“I was a blithering wreck when I heard it for the first time!” said Heasley. Her home sits within the Robinhood Oaks Estates in Lake Elsinore, California, where, as of late, different disasters have threatened her quaint neighborhood.
In the past six months the surrounding area was scarred by the flames of the Holy Jim Fire, followed by flash floods that ravaged the charred landscape, and then a heavy storm that triggered a torrent of mud and debris. While many may have packed their precious belongings and left for higher ground, Heasley opted to stay in her home.
“You either have to go or you don’t; however, you’re really smarter to go,” explained the 85-year-old woman who has had more than her share of evacuation orders. “I just couldn’t keep up, I thought to myself, I’m just too tired and more likely to get in a car wreck while driving out here.”
Heasley explained how one of the recent evacuations left her in harm’s way.
“I was scared, so I rushed out of here!” expressed Heasley. “I crashed my car going just around the corner from here where the water was rushing through.” Knowing her own limitations, Heasley reasoned that it was safer to stay and ride out the storm.
“This is my home and if I’m here I want to see what happens – watch the water.” A creek runs straight through Heasley’s backyard where a small bridge connects her home to a backyard living area. For the next several days she watched as her lovely garden transformed into a muddy bog.
“The creek started to flow, and it was like it couldn’t control itself,” described Heasley. “It was moving black mud; it looked like dark, loose cement.”
Once the storm passed through the area, Heasley examined her property and noticed that two drainage pipes nearby were completely dammed with muck. The pipes divert the creek from flowing into the streets and into homes; leaving it clogged would lead to potential hazards from the next rainstorms, causing severe damage to the Robinhood Estates neighborhood.
Heasley had no idea what to do with her backyard and her neighborhood. As she tried her best to make her yard as she remembered, she saw someone in grey examine the area.
“I saw this gentleman keep walking up and down the creek and then he saw me,” she recalls. “I heard him say, ‘we are going to come and help you!’”
Hesitant at first, Heasley took the brochure from the Greyshirt and saw the name Team Rubicon on it.
“This is amazing!” exclaimed Heasley. “It’s really absolutely amazing because up until now I tried my hardest I could [to clean up] and spent thousands of dollars that I couldn’t afford.”
Team Rubicon sent a small forward strike team to the Robinhood Estate neighborhood ahead of the Operation Wind Rider start date. Their purpose was to make ready the area for the soon arriving heavy equipment and to clear out the two drainage pipes. Heasley watched as the 11 Greyshirts with shovels and sleds manually moved dirt and rock out of the two 32-foot-long drainage pipes.
“I saw smiles on these men and women as they worked,” said Heasley. “I’m just totally amazed! It makes me feel that deep in [Team Rubicon] that there is a good core of values.”
On their first day of assistance, Team Rubicon was able to move over 400 cubic feet of sand and debris from the two pipes by hand and uncovered a bridge that was buried by the mudslide. Operation Wind Rider continues this week to finish clearing the mudslide debris out of the Lake Elsinore neighborhood.
Jonathen E. Davis is a co-founder and chief photographer for Null Gravity Media. He recently became Team Rubicon’s Region IX, Southern California’s Deputy State Communications Manager. Jonathen has been with Team Rubicon since 2012 covering disaster response operations both domestically and internationally.