Surviving a four-foot wave of mud is incredible. When over 115 passenger cars and 75 semi-trucks filled with hundreds of people do it uninjured, it’s a miracle. That miracle happened in Kern County California on Thursday, October 15, 2015, when heavy rains hit hard and the torrent of water unleashed the hillsides adjacent to Highway 58 near Tehachapi. The washout is more than a half-mile long. Northbound Interstate 5 near Lebec was also hit with flooding, stranding motorists and closing the roadway. With the extended drought in California, and an El Nino year predicted, the flashfloods and mudslides from this first storm event could be an omen of trouble ahead. Trouble for roads; trouble for areas affected by wildfires; trouble for infrastructure; trouble for homeowners; and trouble for stupid.
Stupid is ignoring flash flood warnings and traveling when you don’t need to. Stupid is continuing past sections of road that are visibly flooded. Stupid is driving too fast and reckless for conditions on alternate routes to make up lost time. Stupid is ignoring the message Mother Nature is trying to send by screaming, “get off the road!” None of the folks trapped in the mudslide on Highway 58 were stupid. Some were fighting for their lives trying to get out of their trapped vehicles and get themselves to safety. One man who survived the mudslide described how the rush of mud and debris picked up cars and trucks and moved them around effortlessly. He described how one man had to kick out the rear window in his vehicle in order to escape. They are an example of how fast Mother Nature can come for you and how helpless we can be in trying to respond. Then there is the story of Jess Flowers and his wife. Despite hitting roadblocks, flooding, and mud, they continued their journey, one redirection after another in an attempt to make it from Bakersfield to San Diego. What should have been a 4-hour trip took 10 hours. Was there some dire situation that compelled their journey? No, it was just a trip to visit Jess’ daughter. Yes, it made for an interesting story that ran in the Bakersfield Californian on Saturday morning. Yes, there is a picture of Jess, smiling next to his muddy vehicle. Yes, they came through the event unharmed. Yes, it was stupid.
Weather announcements and warnings are real. A healthy respect for them can save lives. This will be an interesting rainy season if drought-tolerant folks ignore storm warnings. There were several reports of individuals stranded who would not have been if they had heeded warnings and respected roadblocks. There was a vehicle fire, perhaps caused by one of the drivers pushing wildly on a mountain road trying to make up time lost in taking a detour. Emergency responders have a tough job; it shouldn’t be made more difficult by adding the need to save stupid.
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