By Larry Clinton
I moved to my first floating home, at Kappas Marina, just in time for New Year’s, and just in time for a killer storm. After getting 10 inches of rain in December, 1981, Marin got drenched with 13 inches on January 3 and 4.
A leak developed from my upstairs deck, which soaked my bedroom floor, causing rain to fall downstairs, and eventually to seep into my plywood pontoons. Our parking lots flooded, and people had to brave the elements to move their cars to higher ground. Dealing with this “trial by water,” I learned a lot about houseboat living in a very short time.
But my problems were minor compared to some of the folks in the hills of Sausalito.
Here’s how Cindy Roby reported on the storm for this paper almost 33 years ago:
It started off like just one hell of a rainstorm. While the 49ers slogged their way to victory at Candlestick on Sunday, the rain grew heavier. It pelted the county all night and by mid-morning Monday, serious flooding was reported throughout the county. Noon news showed submerged cars, slow traffic and a make-the-best-of-it-fellow windsurfing on the floodwaters in San Rafael.
And still it came down, and the news turned frantic and ominous. The word "disaster" was substituted for "storm". . .Attention turned to Sausalito Monday night with news of a large landslide which fell onto the southbound lanes of 101 on the Waldo Grade. Homes on Wolfback Ridge were watched carefully. The bridge was closed and helicopters circled ominously.
Early Tuesday morning the rain stopped. It was cold and gray and grim. The bad news continued to pour in while the cleanup began. All day trucks worked to clear the southbound lanes of Waldo Grade. Sausalito residents hung over the overpass and cheered the first cars traveling north about 4:30 p.m. And they wandered down on Bridgeway as residents of several buildings evacuated their homes that had been damaged by a mudslide and stood in further peril from above where the house at #6 Bulkley had begun to show signs of strain. Crews cut the gas and water lines and monitored Bulkley Avenue where a huge crack grew and the downhill roadbed sank lower with the strain. But by Tuesday night it all seemed stable. Over with. The general consensus was that Sausalito had been pretty lucky.
But that assumption was terribly wrong. In the clear quiet of Tuesday night, the steep hillside, covered with Scotch Broom that lies just 40 to 75 feet south of the Spencer Avenue-Monte Mar exit sign was silently reaching its tolerance. The hillside — actually landfill placed there to support the northbound lanes of 101 when they were built some 25 years ago — had been saturated to the breaking point. And at approximately 9:30 p.m. the hillside gave way, releasing tons of mud that roared downhill smashing the duplex at 466-468 Sausalito Blvd right off its hillside perch. This two-story structure sheared through 85 Crescent killing its sole occupant, 46-year-old Sally Baum.
Nearby residents describe these few awful moments as punctuated by the sound of a woman screaming, trees cracking and the dull gurgle of mud as it descended. The lights went off. Then there was an eerie awful silence.
Within minutes, the fire and police departments had responded to the scene. They assessed the enormity of the disaster and began to evacuate the stunned and disoriented nearby residents. Police and fire personnel went door to door. Banging on doors, beaming flashlights in darkened windows, yelling through bullhorns, and literally pulling some people from their own homes. Later a CHP helicopter was brought in to bring the same message to people in a wider area of neighboring streets ranging from up on Prospect and Cable Roadway down to Crescent, Lower Crescent, Sausalito Boulevard and Main Street, reaching all the way down to Third and Fourth Streets. Police checkpoints informed them to go to an evacuation point at Martin Luther King School at the other end of town. Fire Chief Steve Bogel and Battalion Chief Fylstra started looking through the wreckage. “We understood someone was in the house, Chief Bogel reported. “Fylstra saw the body and together we pulled it out."
According to later reports, Sally Baum, a young widow, had just returned home from dinner with neighbors when her bedroom was struck. She was probably getting ready for bed when the slide hit. Ironically, the living room and kitchen of her house remained intact, with Christmas gifts still under the tree.
Sally Baum, who lost her life in the 1982 mudslide.