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Malibu Disasters & Hazards: Floods
The steep topography of the Santa Monica Mountains combines with intense storms bringing torrential rain off the Pacific Ocean to produce periodic flooding in Malibu. The normally placid (or dry) streams, especially the major watersheds of Malibu Creek, Topanga Creek and a few others, become raging torrents for a few days as they drain the land. The saturated land then goes on to find a new equilibrium by shedding some of its surface through small or sometimes massive slides.
1978 opened with major storms pummeling the community. Mud and rock slides closed Malibu, Topanga and Latigo Canyon roads and Kanan Road. High surf pounded homes in Malibu Colony and along Malibu Road, and the National Guard came in to assist with the sandbagging effort. Merchants in the Malibu Country Mart suffered heavy losses when storm runoff from Cross Creek flooded their shops.
Two photos on this page show flooding during the Winter 1991-92 rains, part of the El Nino storms that caused havoc all up and down the eastern shores of the Pacific basin.
In December 1992, heavy rains caused flooding in the central and eastern parts of Malibu, including areas that would burn in 1993. Las Flores Creek overflowed its banks closing Las Flores Canyon Road. Flood-swollen Cross Creek covered parts of Cross Creek Road and damaged homes in the Malibu Colony. Six Las Flores families who lived on the creek sued the City of Malibu and Los Angeles County claiming that construction and maintenance on Rambla Pacifico Road caused repeated flooding of their homes. LA County settled separately in 1996 while Malibu settled the case in 1998 by buying the six properties for $4.2 million.
The winter of 1994-1995 brought severe storms in January and March with rainfall well above normal. The areas of Malibu that had been devestated by the 1993 fires now experienced debris flows and flood damage to homes, commercial buildings, roads and highways. The January 1995 floods damaged the Malibu Lagoon Bridge on PCH requiring it to be rebuilt.
On December 6, 1997 homes in Malibu were damaged by waves and seacliff erosion. Then on February 7, 1998 Malibu Canyon Road was closed due to mudslides and rockfalls as a period of heavy rains arrived in Malibu. The next day, an ocean-eroded cliff buckled, causing one home to collapse with two others threatened. The homes along Broad Beach Road were undermined by high tides. On February 16, several houses along the Malibu beach were damaged by the rain and high surf while and further damage and road closures were experienced as that rainy month continued. Parts of Southern California were declared a disaster area after losses including Malibuís Las Flores Canyon where about a dozen homes were evacuated because of unstable ground. More rain and mudslides on Pacific Coast Highway forced the closure of the Malibu courthouse, and a 140-foot-long retaining wall partially collapsed, damaging two homes above the slide on Calle del Barco. This list of woes goes on and on.
Bottom line, floods are part of the physical world of Malibu. Expect them, plan for them, and don't be surprised by them. Long time Malibu residents are famous for picking up the pieces, rebuilding, and saying, "Well, that's Malibu."
Tsunami Threat to Malibu
There is potential for a damaging tsunami to strike the Malibu coast, generated by undersea earth movement, triggered by an offshore earthquake. The densely populated coastal zone of Malibu is at extreme risk for heavy damage and loss of life in such an event. A large tsunami could devastate the Colony and other beachfront neighborhoods, pass over Malibu Lagoon to flood the low-lying Civic Center area and even propagate far up Malibu Creek and other canyons. The tsunami may be preceded by earthquake shaking that causes slides, fires, structural collapses, hazmat releases, and injuries along the coast, a compounded disaster that will be severe and difficult for emergency services to mitigate. Evacuation will be problematic since PCH is near sea level while canyon roads have limited capacity and may even be blocked in the aftermath of the earthquake.
Any tsunami that hits Malibu will incorporate structures, boats, automobiles, trees, and people as it rises from the beach and moves inland, a load of heavy debris that will contribute to further damage. A tsunami may be a single wave, but could also involve subsequent waves even larger than the initial, pilot wave. As each wave subsides, an equally damaging reverse flow will be experienced as the water returns to the ocean, carrying its massive debris content seaward. For victims unable to leave the inundation zone, the overall effect will emulate multiple flash floods in alternating directions.
In 2013, the United States Geological Survey released a study of the potential for a tsunami on the Sourhtern California coast, including Malibu. In the study, a hypothetical but quite possible 9.1-magnitude earthquake in Alaska was modeled as the generator of the tsunami which was found to pose a significant danger to Malibu. The sea would rise to inundate large areas and wipe out homes along Malibuís coast. According to a report in the Malibu Times (September 11, 2013):
There is no record of a significant tsunami on the Malibu coast, but it cannot be ruled out.
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