Couple say loss to mud slide was man-caused disaster
Lou and Sonja deBottari, who lost everything in the New Year’s flood, consider the mud slide that wiped out their business and three-story home a man-caused disaster.
Lou, former owner of the Mountain Gate Lodge, said, “I am convinced man had a significant play in this.”
He said he blamed past Highway 395 improvements, which changed the course of the Walker River, causing channel diversion and flooding to the deBottari’s property during New Year’s.
Referring to highway projects done in the 1950s and 80s he said, “Once you muck around with Mother Nature, then you have to put the infrastructure in and you can’t do it piecemeal.”
Randy Iwasaki, Caltrans district director said permits would have to be obtained from California Department of Fish and Game before Caltrans could do any stream channel restoration.
He said an exception was made for the recent restoration work to the river because the governor declared a state of emergency.
All environmental laws were suspended to allow Caltrans to go into the river, he said.
He said he couldn’t comment on past highway projects or flooding in the canyon because he has only been in his position for a year.
However, Iwasaki said, common practice in the past in the event of a road slip-out was to back fill the problem area.
“It is too costly to move the river,” he said.
To add a passing lane, “they’re not going to install it where the roadway butts up against the river,” he said.
Caltrans hired a river consultant to design a river channel to go with the reconstruction of a span of nine miles of highway, he said.
Lou said he never worried about flooding because the 11 cabins, which were swept away by floodwaters, had been there since the 1920s.
“I figured the old boys who built the place knew what they were doing,” he said.
So he said he didn’t have flood insurance for his property, which was worth $1.3 million.
He said he had earthquake and fire insurance, but at the time that the couple bought the place in 1986, he couldn’t get flood insurance.
The night of the flood the deBottaris left with only medications and the clothes they were wearing.
During the night their three-story house, restaurant, gift shop and gas station were demolished by the mud slide.
“If we would have stayed, we would have been killed,” Sonja said. “We are lucky as it all turns out.”
The couple’s two horses were killed and two of their three cats are missing.
Two of their cars were destroyed.
The couple were in the process of selling the lodge so they could finally retire, Lou said.
“We were negotiating a down payment,” Sonja said.
But now, the deal’s off, she added.
The couple bought the lodge after retiring from their careers and moving from Southern California to get away from the crime and pollution, Sonja said.
The lodge, booked through 1998, was a popular fishing spot for vacationers, Lou said.
He said of the cabins, “they were homes away from home.”
The couple had all their assets invested in the lodge and didn’t have any savings.
Now they can’t sell the property, Lou said.
“It would cost a million dollars to put the land back and who’s going to buy it?
“I don’t know what we are going to do,” Lou said. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel – there’s no light.”
The couple has looked to the government to help.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration gave the couple three months’ rent for the mobile home in Carson City they have moved into.
That amount would have to be repaid if the couple qualifies for loan they applied for from the Small Business Administration.
They applied a month and a half ago, and haven’t heard anything yet.
“It’s a question of whether (the SBA) thinks I can pay it back,” said 70-year-old Lou. “How am I going to pay it back at my age?”
Contributions of a bed and a table from the Red Cross would also have to be paid back if the couple gets the loan.
However, the things the deBottaris lost that were treasured the most can’t be replaced with any amount of money.
Lou said his family records dating back to the year 1200 and many antiques were lost.
The couple has received much support through private contributions.
“Our friends have been over-overwhelmingly supportive,” Sonja said. “To say thank you is totally inadequate.
“That is the only bright light, knowing the wonderful friends we have.”
Among contributers were: St. Teresa in Carson City, United Methodist in Gardnerville and the Western Nevada Musical Theater Co.
The theater company has planned a benefit for the deBottaris from 4:30 to 7 p.m. March 9 at Carson High School, Senator Square. Call 267-2941 for information.
Western Nevada Community College gave Sonja a scholarship to attend college next semester.
The couple even received a package containing a coat from people they didn’t know.