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Evacuees return to California homes covered in mud

Residents evacuated from foothill communities deluged by weekend mudslides north of Los Angeles were allowed to return home yesterday as crews moved debris and cleared catch basins in anticipation of more rain later in the week.

The final evacuation order was lifted for about 70 homes in the Paradise Valley area of La Canada Flintridge, L.A. County Sheriff's Dep. Guillermina Saldana said. Only residents with valid identification were allowed back into the neighborhood that was choked with a thick layer of mud and debris during a pummeling rain early on Saturday.

Forty-three homes in the La Canada Flintridge area were damaged and 500 more evacuated Saturday after mud and water overflowed basins and surged into streets, taking furniture, cars and concrete barriers with it. Nine houses were declared unsafe to enter. About 25 vehicles were damaged.

"In my 20 years of fire service, this is the first time I've seen this much devastation caused by a weather system," Los Angeles County Fire Battalion Chief Mike Brown said while walking past suburban homes with thigh-deep mud in their yards.

Los Angeles County public works crews used bulldozers and other heavy machinery to move boulders, scoop out catch basins and clear roads.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the area yesterday, stopping to talk to reporters in front of a house where flowing mud left a mark on the wall at least 5 feet above the ground.

Schwarzenegger hugged a tearful resident whose voice broke as she told him her entire first floor was inundated with at least 2 feet of mud. Karineh Mangassarian told the governor she wanted crews to start digging her house out immediately.

"I want to save my house, but by the time the city gets here it will be too late," Mangassarian said outside her home, where mud reached up to the mailbox. One small rose bush poked out with a couple of pink blooms that withstood the rain.

Schwarzenegger said the three county sites set aside for mud disposal might not be enough.

"They need to clean up this area as quickly as possible from the mud. They need permits for a fourth dumping site, disposal site, which have to come from the federal government and the state," the governor said. "We all have to work together to help the people whose homes were damaged."

The sun was shining yesterday on barren mountaintops scarred by last summer's wildfires, but forecasters say more rain could arrive by tomorrow.

About 800 homes across Los Angeles County were evacuated, but most were allowed to return home late on Saturday as another round of expected rains proved tame and moved on quickly.