Remembering another deadly mudslide, Love Creek, California, 1982

With the death toll rising above 20 near Arlington, Wash., I find myself recalling the anguish and uncertainty of a similar disaster near Ben Lomond, Calif., 32 years ago.

My mother and stepfather lived on a Santa Cruz County mountainside, a stone’s throw from where the earth slumped above Love Creek on the dark morning of Jan. 5, 1982.

I learned of the disaster early that Tuesday in the newsroom of the Redding Record-Searchlight, where I was on the second day of my new job as a police reporter.

The Searchlight published in the afternoon, so my shift started at 6 a.m. I became alarmed as the news neared home. First, Santa Cruz, then Ben Lomond, then Love Creek — a stream easily leaped in summer — a few hundred yards down the one-lane road from where Mom and Kent lived in a house he built on stilts.

When I phoned home — 275 miles to the south — there was no getting through. My brother was staying with them and I couldn’t reach him, either. My Dad in San Jose answered, but all he knew was it had rained like crazy and hadn’t stopped.

It wasn’t until the next day that I heard from Mom, who called the newsroom. She, Kent and my brother were fine, but roads were closed, utilities were out, the Soquel Avenue Bridge over the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz had collapsed. Worst of all, people were missing below them at Love Creek.

All told, 22 people died in Santa Cruz County, 10 of them in the Love Creek slide. Two years ago, the Santa Cruz Sentinel published a 30th anniversary story including a number of photos. I haven’t been back since Mom died in 2005, but the Sentinel story says the bodies of the two youngest victims, Trevor and Kelly McCloskey, were never found.

Visiting with my kids, we’d walk down the hill to the base of the slide along Love Creek Road. They were curious about the memorial left by the boys’ grandmother which included stuffed animals, toys and a sign reading, “Somewhere in this area lie my two grandsons, Trevor, 7, and Kelly, 5. Please do not dump any trash.”

For those suffering similar heartache in Washington, my prayers are with you.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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