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Residents in a Calif. neighborhood hit hard by weather events consider moving


People move to Los Angeles for the sun, supposedly. Now climate change is adding more storms into the weather mix, like the one that hit this week. KCRW's Caleigh Wells asked residents of one neighborhood if they want to stay or go.

CALEIGH WELLS, BYLINE: Chris Kelly has evacuated four times since he moved to rural Topanga in western LA County 15 years ago. He was up all Sunday night during the heavy rain and caught some of it on video.


CHRIS KELLY: So at one point, I believe the canyon in both directions, where I am, was trapped.

WELLS: He built makeshift culverts to keep his business from flooding.


KELLY: With a shovel, diverting the water coming from across the street to basically bypass my shop.

WELLS: Topanga is a neighborhood surrounded by mountains and trees, bisected by a winding canyon road. It's between a grid of middle-class suburbs and the ritzy city of Malibu. Its small-town vibe feels like a Hallmark movie, only with more surfers and less snow. It's also a risky place to live.

ABIGAIL AGUIRRE: The shorthand that people around there use is it's the perilous paradise.

WELLS: When Abigail Aguirre moved to Topanga in 2017, the local emergency volunteer coalition sent her a disaster manual.

AGUIRRE: When it's not being threatened by a megafire or, you know, mudslides, it's just impossibly beautiful.

WELLS: The canyon is positioned such that a windy day during wildfire season could spell disaster in less than an hour. There hasn't been a major fire in 30 years, but there have been close calls. Aguirre says after five years, several power outages and one major fire evacuation, she sold the house and moved to northern New Mexico.

AGUIRRE: Enough of that, and you're like, how much is the pluses of living in Topanga outweighing the anxiety, and is it still?

WELLS: Life in Topanga means neighborhood-wide evacuation drills and learning how to prepare your house for wildfire. Karen Dannenbaum has lived here since 1988. She says she's never seen weather this bad.

KAREN DANNENBAUM: I would say this current storm is absolutely the worst storm I've seen.

WELLS: Ten inches of rain in just two days. Dannenbaum's home insurance has increased fourfold - more than $6,000 - in just the past few years. But she says she'll never leave.

DANNENBAUM: Looking out my window, I look at all these trees. When I can sit outside, and the birds are so loud sometimes - it's so beautiful and peaceful here.

WELLS: She and her neighbors most days enjoy some of the best nature California has to offer, all while being prepared for the worst.

For NPR News, I'm Caleigh Wells in Los Angeles.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Caleigh Wells
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