lompico Disaster Heros - 1982 Storm

1982 Lompico Road Closure

Friday, January 8, 1982 - Santa Cruz Sentinel

EDITOR'S NOTE: Acts or heroism during this week's storm and its aftermath number on the hundreds. This story focuses on just a few. Persons and their actions depicted on the story are not meant to be singled out, but rather to show examples of courage and selflessness demonstrated by all the others.

By Mark Bergstrom, Sentinal Staff Writer

Zayante Fire Capt. Nick Pagnini ran out of Lompico station just as three cabins across the creek began to slide.

In a split second, the house on top was on the bottom and the two which had been it were gone. Literally. Down the raging creek without a trace of debris.

Lompico Road, the lifeline to the maintain community of 2,500, was suddenly gone, "returned to nature" as Pagnini would later describe.

In back of him, the mountain was coming down on Lake Coulevard. The town was cut off.

The sky was a black hole which opened to let out the torrential rain as Pagnini climbed up the face of the mountain opposite what had instantly become the river.

For three and a half miles, Pagnini trekked along the deer trail back to the Zayante firehouse to help organize the rescue operation he knew would be needed.

Along the way, Pagnini checked on residents who lived on the ridge and led them out to safety.

In the back of his mind, he wondered of the pond above his own home on West Zayante Road was holding and unconsciously prayed for the safety of his wife and two daughters. It would be 12 hours before he would know they were secure.

During those 12 hours, Pagnini's energy was directed toward answering the barrage of calls for help in and around Zayante.

As he raced from call to call, the radio in the Zayante rescue wagon scremed out emergency calls in Boulder Creek, Brookdale, Ben Lomond and in Felton.

Pagnini's store - Roy's Market - is in Felton. There was damage in Felton he knew, but there was no question Chief Mac McDonnell and his volunteers would give their all for Pagnini and others.

Unnoticed by Pagnini, there also were calls of flooding in Soquel. Again, there could be no doubt that Chief Steve Negro and his volunteers would be breaking their backs in the battle, just as the volunteer in Boulder Creek were doing.

Calls for help were universal - a tree had just crashed through a home on Cathedral Drive in Aptos.

Rich Topham, a meter reader for the Soquel Creek County Water District, was at home across the street when "we heard the tree go down all of a sudden. A neighbor of mine and me ran down the road. We could hear the screams."

Topham was joined by fellow water employees Joe Lathan, Bob Tonkin, Dan Stringrube and Mike Brightwell, who had been working in the area to repair a broken pipe.

Together they began digging as the first Aptos Fire units pulled up to the scene.

Two and a half hours later, the rescuers found Carole Seagrave, 34, dead, but her teenage daughter, Sheri Sheridan, was alive.

For days, only Sheri knew her mother was the real hero - she had shoved her daughter to safety.

As rescuers struggled on Cathedral Drive, the radio blarred on: An avalanche of mud had knocked a home onto Beach Drive in Rio Del Mar. The resident was trapped inside.

Firefighter Mark Frank had worked the Sunday shift and was looking forward to a day off Monday, even though the rain was still heavy when he awoke.

By 10 a.m., the call had been broadcast for all off-duty Aptos firefighters to report to their stations.

He was still on duty Thursday when he recalled frantically digging with his fellow firemen to free the man who was trapped in the mud and debris of the the Beach Drive home.

"Our hands looked as if we'd been in a karate tournament," Frank recalled three days later.

There could be no pain in his hands a mere mour after that Beach Drive rescue when Frank turned around after evacuating residents of the Aptos Pines mobile home park. He was hit by a a sea of mud and debris which swept him onto his back and pushed him almost an entire block down the street.

It was then and only then, that Frank, like other firefighters, thought of himslef.

Still, the calls mounted, including the first from the Love Creek area of Ben Lomond, the scene of greatest tragedy.

A woman had called 911, screaming for help. The, the line went dead.

Sheriff's Deputies Joe Hemingway and Mike McShane raced to the scene in a four-wheel drive jeep.

They rounded up 12 residents - eight children and four adults - but as they headed back down the hill, trees crashed behind them and mud blocked their path ahead.

Abandoning the jeep, Hemingway and McShane led the residents through the dark, the rain and the waist-high mud - carrying the youngest children on their shoulders to the firehouse.

Hemingway's confidenxe, the victims said, was the saving factor.

Thus, the Love Creek story had begun to unfold and today, four days later, the tragic ending had yet to be written.

By Wednesday, Pagnini and the other Zayante volunteers and mountain residents were still struggling to open a road out of Lompico.

At 9 p.m., Pangini headed out in his four-wheel drive, hopeful he could open the road to caravan traffic on Thursday.

As he neared the Zayante firehouse, he heard a voice which had dominated radio traffic in the three days following the devastation.

It was Ben Lomond Fire Chief Mike Smith asking him to call the Ben Lomond station.

With power restored to Felton, Smith knew Roy's Market would need fresh milk for the townspeople. And, the market is on Smith's milk route.

Early Thursday morning, Pagnini and Smith met at Roy's for the delivery.

As Pagnini left to finish digging out the road to Lompico, he knew Smith was going back to Love Creek to dig for bodies and that task, Pagnini knows, "really rips your heart."

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