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Will the L.A. River overflow during El Niño? Residents get some answers and reassurance

L.A. River at Fletcher Drive

Rain storm fills up the L.A. River at Fletcher Drive

By MATT SANDERSON

GLASSELL PARK — The heavy rains from El Niño are expected to start falling soon. But Eastside residents living near the L.A. River and Arroyo Seco should not be overly concerned that those waterways will overflow their concrete banks and flood surrounding Eastside communities. That’s what a representative from the Department of Public Works told residents who gathered in Glassell Park last week for the city’s first  El Niño Town Hall.

Residents in attendance recalled that some Atwater Village homes along the L.A. River were evacuated during four days of torrential rains about 14 years ago.

“I got a notice to leave,” said Rueben Martinez. “Luckily it didn’t flood, but flooding is possible.”

Ken Swanson, an engineer with the Department of Public Works, said the Army Corps of Engineers has determined that the concrete banks, walls and other infrastructure can handle the rivers that flow past Atwater, Elysian Valley, Lincoln Heights and other Eastside neighborhoods. Unless there’s a rare, “historic event,” the communities near the rivers should rest assured, he said.

“We feel we’ve got a well-engineered system that can take care of most storms in most people’s lifetimes,” Swanson said.

Last week’s town hall, the first of four such gatherings, attracted about 50 people to the two-hour meeting at the Glassell Park Senior Center. Piles of literature were available to residents during the meeting and a question-and-answer period. Jim Featherstone, General Manager of the city’s Emergency Management Department, was on hand, and information was available from other city departments,  the National Weather Service and Community Response Emergency Teams, which are composed of volunteers trained in emergency preparedness.

Officials reviewed the wide variety of preparations that have been made. The Los Angeles Fire Department, for example, has surveyed foothill communities for homeless encampments. Featherstone said that “digital rain collectors” have been installed across the area to monitor how much is hitting the ground per hour.

On Friday, Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an executive directive to create an El Niño Task Force to focus on all storm preparations across the city. According to the L.A. Times, the city signed cell phone contract agreements with major carriers to share network capabilities in case of a disaster, as well as a contract for emergency food and shelter resources

Featherstone’s department also plans to hold Twitter town halls and also strongly recommended  that residents sign up and bookmark NotifyLA.org, PrepareLANow.org and elNinola.com for all storm-season and emergency preparedness resources.

But Martinez, who also serves on the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council, was concerned about the outreach to elderly and disabled residents as well as those who have no Internet connection or computer.

“You should be going door to door,” Martinez said. “Meetings, pamphlets, a website. That’s not enough.”

Matt Sanderson is a journalist, photographer and digital media producer. A native of Rhode Island, he received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of New Hampshire and moved to Los Angeles in 2012 with Patch.com/AOL.

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