Dried mud coats a stretch of the two-lane road leading up to Oak Glen Steak House & Saloon.
The residue of the devastating and deadly mudslide that flowed through Forest Falls and Oak Glen earlier this week grows darker and denser the closer you get to the popular Yucaipa restaurant.
Mere feet from a flood channel along the San Bernardino mountains, the restaurant bore the full brunt of Mother Nature when the elements coalesced Monday, Sept. 12, following intense thunderstorms in the area.
Flooding and mudslides destroyed two homes in Oak Glen and six in Forest Falls, and damaged many more, San Bernardino County fire officials say. The county has declared a local emergency, and on Friday authorities announced a six-day search for a missing woman had ended after she was discovered buried in debris that had overrun her property.
Through the tragedy, however, the mountain community is working to expedite the recovery process.
“Ever since the El Dorado fire, I’ve been to so many meetings about mudslides,” said Karen Pierce, the sister of owner Rick Knudsen, who won the $180 million Mega Millions Jackpot in 2014 and bought the steakhouse not long after.
“We knew there was the possibility (of a mudslide),” Pierce added, “but the devastation that happened, you see it in the movies, you see it in the slides, the pictures they show, but you don’t see it in real life.
“So now, yeah, we’re part of real life.”
Oak Glen Steak House & Saloon is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, so thankfully, Pierce said, the place was empty when the muck raced through it.
The mudslide struck the 7,800-square-foot restaurant from the rear, bullying its way up and over a portion of the cinder block exterior and tearing the roof off a back office before flowing through the kitchen and two main dining rooms, engulfing everything – computers, liquor cabinets, booths, chairs, kitchen equipment – in its path.
Mounds of mud several feet high still remain, as does debris brought in during the onslaught.
A heavy stream of water began coursing in from where the roof used to be Friday.
In the five days since the destruction, restaurant staff, management and community members have worked tirelessly to make a dent in the walls of muck.
“Where do you start?” Pierce recalled thinking earlier this week. “And then we started having all these volunteers show up, and it was, ‘Bring your shovel, gloves and wheelbarrow.’”
Sasha Dennis, a longtime patron by way of Cherry Valley, walked into Oak Glen Steak House & Saloon Friday, her only day off, to lend a hand.
“I want to help the community anyway I can,” she said, shovel beside her. “I just felt compelled to come up and do this. It’s something I can do to help. … Seeing this for the first time, I’m shocked.
“I never would’ve thought it would’ve been like this.”
A GoFundMe was established by Brandon Gallegos, Knudsen’s son and the restaurant manager, in the wake of the mudslide to help make his employees whole.
Nearly $15,000 had been raised as of Friday.
“Our road for rebuilding is going to be a long day by day process,” Gallegos wrote on the donation page, “but slow and steady wins the race.”