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Mudslides make leaving home a painful necessity

Families told to grab essentials from condemned houses

Robert and Patricia Prole and their two children were evacuated from their home early Tuesday morning.
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A California couple's dreams have tumbled.

Homeowners on Southern California hillsides are told they cannot return.

In rain-soaked California, homes are slipping away.
Los Angeles (California)

(CNN) -- On the saturated slopes of Los Angeles, California, red means "Go." Now.

Don't think. Don't hesitate. Don't pack. The area is in the midst of its third-wettest season on record, and the abundance of soggy soil could be lethal if people tarry in getting to firmer, drier ground.

When officials place a crimson tag on a structure, it means get out. Don't come back. The house is not livable. The swift compliance with evacuation orders suggests residents recognize the risk, but that hasn't made leaving home any easier.

Patricia Prole, the owner of a red-tagged house, had to pause when she talked about her post-evacuation paperwork.

"They had us mark is it a temporary change or is it a permanent change ... And that was hard," she said with a deep exhale. "And write that down as our former address, and our new address is a P.O. box."

Emergency personnel routed Robert and Patricia Prole and their two children out of bed not too long after 1 a.m. Tuesday.

They had heard crackling and rumbling and thought it was an earthquake, Robert Prole, 42, told City News Service. It was the sound of their swimming pool breaking apart and sliding down a hill. The Proles got out of the almost million-dollar home with their lives and a few trinkets.

"My family is fine," said Robert Prole, the general manager for a courier service. "We got out OK, and people say that is the important thing."

Patricia Prole, 42, and her children were still in sleeping clothes when the firefighters came in and whisked them out. She's grateful to the crew who scooped up some dolls and trophies for 5-year-old Matilda and 9-year-old Alexander. That's what mattered most to her kids, she said.

Patricia Prole manages a decorating service, and she'd recently updated her dream home of eight years.

"Everything was gutted. Sliding cabinets, new flooring, everything," she said. "We just did it a year ago."

The Proles' financial situation also slid down a steep hill. They will not receive any insurance money; their homeowner's policy with Mercury Casualty did not cover earth movement.

"There is no way for people to protect themselves from this kind of calamity," said Bruce Norman, senior vice president of Mercury Insurance Group. "It is regrettable to see people lose their home and their possessions. I wish there was something that could be done; unfortunately, that is just not the case."

Emergency mode

City employees were stapling a red tag to the Los Angeles home of Hiroko Mayeda while they were telling her she had 20 minutes to vacate her home of 40 years. Officials had already determined that the hillside above her house was unstable.

The series of storms and slides have already killed five people, and so uncertain is the situation that firefighters escort red tag recipients in and out of their houses.

"Just so in the event it does happen, we don't have to come in and make rescues," said Bob Franco, the chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Mayeda's sons arrive 15 minutes later. Dazed, they hustle to grab a few things.

"We're just in emergency mode," said Gary Mayeda, one of Hiroko's sons. "Just think of what you need to do for the immediate moment and take care of things later."

That's what the Proles did when four days later they dodged back to their condemned house for essentials.

The whole house could slide off the hill, so they rushed to get what's important -- like Alexandria's Barbie laptop. The expensive wine stays; the childrens' favorite juice goes.

Before the Mayedas or Proles can go home for good, they would have to pay geologists and structural engineers to assess damage and recommend repairs. And the city would have to approve the plan.

But in the meantime, Robert Prole rushes his wife to stop collecting juice and get out while they can. "Come on. That's it," he says. Then he notices something for Alexander. "My son's favorite hat. 'I eat glue.' He's gotta have that."

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