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The night the mountain came down

February 01, 2003

Tim Willert

Almost 25 years after he and his family cheated death, Scott

Genofile still shakes his head in disbelief.

"We thought the whole damn mountain came down," Genofile, 40,

recalled this week. "We were luckier than hell."

In the early morning hours of Feb. 10, 1978, Mother Nature

hammered the Markridge Road home of Robert and Jackie Genofile and

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their two teenage children, leaving a path of destruction in her

wake.

Back then, the window in Scott's room looked straight up Pine Cone

Road, a steep, winding, pine tree-lined street that resembles a ski

run. Scott's 18-year-old sister, Kim, called to her mother, who

joined her in Scott's room as they looked up the street.

What they saw was hard to make out because it was pitch black and

pouring rain. It turned out to be a wall of water, mud, rocks and

boulders rushing down the street, unleashed when Upper Shields Debris

Basin overflowed. Weeks of heavy rain -- including more than 5 inches

in a 48-hour period -- proved too much for the basin, situated at the

foot of Shields Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains. A 1975 fire in

the foothills above La Crescenta and La Canada Flintridge contributed

to the erosion spilling from the basin.

"That's when the rumbling started," Scott Genofile said.

The fast-moving debris flow, which included uprooted trees, power

transformers and more than a dozen automobiles, was heading straight

for the Genofile home at the foot of Pine Cone.

"All of a sudden, we see this big, black thing rolling down on

us," Jackie Genofile, 79, recalled this week. "I yelled, 'Run, we're

being flooded!'"

The family made a beeline for the master bedroom on the far side

of the single-story house, and prepared for the worst.

"I remember shutting the door and stepping back," Scott said.

"Then the door just burst open and mud came pouring in like water."

The Genofiles took refuge on Bob and Jackie's mattress as the room

began filling with mud and other debris.

Robert Genofile kicked out the sliding-glass doors to give the

muck a place to exit. When the mattress started to drift toward the

opening, Scott and Kim jumped off to redirect it, but were instantly

pinned between the bed's brass railing and the wall.

"Once that stuff hardened, it was like we were in cement," Scott

said. "We couldn't move."

The bed began to rise. The house was being buried to the eaves.

Boulders landed with a thud on the roof. Robert and Jackie reached

for their children.

"I said, 'Oh, my God, what a hell of a way for us to die,'" Jackie

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