The Kitchen Angels: Debris Flow at the Casa Dorinda Retirement Community 

By Barbara T. Hadley   |   January 10, 2023

Located at the intersection of Hot Springs and Olive Mill roads, Casa Dorinda was dubbed “ground zero” for the events of January 9th. The Debris Flow occurred in the early morning hours when over 200 on-campus residents were still asleep and there was a skeleton staff of less than 10. The torrential waters skirted the main campus, leaving little damage to the campus except to a few perimeter apartments. As the debris pounded towards the ocean, it did, however, leave bodies, cars, and personal effects on Casa’s property. There was no electricity, no water, and limited gas on site. Casa Dorinda encompasses three living components: Independent Apartments and Villas; Personal Care, which is semi-independent with 24-hour care available as needed; and a Skilled Nursing Facility for residents who need 24-hour medical assistance. 

At 4 am the roads surrounding Casa became clogged with mud and turbulent waters so that there was no entrance or exit to the campus. Back-up generators turned on at the Medical Center and in the main Casa dining room. Emergency water was hauled out of storage. The last vehicle to enter the campus was a bread delivery truck which then could not exit. CEO Brian McCague slogged approximately six long blocks through hip-high mud to arrive, through a back entrance, mid-morning. All other staff were stranded. Casa has a resident volunteer Warden Program, trained with walkie-talkies, to act in case of emergencies. By 6:30 am they were alerted to action. As Casa’s then Resident MRA Board Member, I was asked by the Director of Operations, who was stuck on the freeway in Ventura, to go to the dining room to make coffee and set up a cold breakfast. 

A handful of residents wandered into the kitchen asking if they could help and “The Kitchen Angels” went to work. The “Bread Man” unloaded his truck. We pillaged the pantry and found large cans of tuna that were turned into over 300 sandwiches. Meanwhile, several women started large pots of chili, to accompany our abundant bread stash, for dinner. After the initial breakfast, we learned that we had no water for cleaning dirty dishes. Thus, we retreated to paper and plastic. With no electricity, residents with flashlights in hand began arriving for dinner at 4:30 pm. We found battery candles. We ladled one large scoop per resident so we would have enough. On day two, our group was more organized and we served a real breakfast and lunch. 

At noon on January 10th, the Food Director arrived to find his kitchen functioning albeit in some disarray. We volunteered to help with dinner, however, we were assured that he had enough staff to take back his domain. Dinner on January 10th was amazing. The dining staff barbecued everything in the freezer, cooked everything in the refrigerators, and brought out their best wines. Our beleaguered residents and staff clung together as the family we are, and then, by dusk the following day, the entire campus, escorted by highway patrol, was evacuated for four long weeks, during which time many more stories evolved.

Barbara T. Hadley, Casa Dorinda Resident


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