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108–Still Talking Up a Storm
By Jennifer Bauman, for OCLNN
You don’t have to prompt Mary Russo to talk. The 108-year-old woman was in a partying mood at the Town and Country Manor in Santa Ana, ready to celebrate her birthday. “Oh this is glorious!” Russo said with a laugh. “I don’t think a celebrity would have gotten this much attention.”

Russo sat in the front of the dining room, where a group of Mexican folkloric dancers performed at her request. As each group of young girls walked through the door, Russo would smile with delight and make comments about their elaborate costumes.

“The ribbons, and braids, and bows,” she observed. “How wonderful!” During the performance, Russo leaned over and whispers, “How they can learn so many steps; the little ones. It’s marvelous.”

Russo admits she’s been blessed with great health, never going to the doctor unless she broke a bone. Instead, the devout Roman Catholic, says she took care of herself with herbs, home remedies, and prayer.

“No, I don’t know what a headache is,” Russo said. “I’m not lying. I don’t know what a backache is,” she added, “because I had it especially blessed by a priest.”
Russo’s secret to long life?

“Moderate eating, and living in a way to respect your body that the Lord gave you. That’s my secret!”

Later, Russo added that a little drinking is OK, admitting she likes to sip some beer with homemade pizza, or have a ½ glass of wine with a plate of fresh Italian pasta. And of course, exercise is key, so Russo demonstrated her 5 a.m. ritual, pumping her arms in the air, and swinging her legs.

Russo never married, or had any of her own children, but helped raise numerous nieces and nephews who call her “Mama Mary.” Niece, Patricia Fiorenza, jokes that her aunt is so domineering and powerful that no man could have stood up to her.

Nephew, Michael Fiorenza, 82, figures Russo’s determination and independent spirit are what helped his aunt live an exceptional life for a single lady, born in 1902. It’s been a life where Russo traveled alone, built a house, and opened a beauty shop in New Brunswick, New Jersey, before she moved to California.

While Fiorenza is talking, Russo reminds everyone that she moved to California in 1946, rattling off other details that everyone else has forgotten. It’s this ability to remember dates, names, and places that has scientists at UC Irvine, studying Russo, to try and figure out why she’s never been the victim of dementia. Russo has already donated her brain so scientists can dissect it after her death to see how it differs from the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient.

It may be awhile before UCI gets Russo’s brain because the 108-year old says she feels great, then she added with a laugh, “So the Lord doesn’t want me… And if he doesn’t want me now… I think wanna live longer!”
History: Orange County had a mine of its own
By Jennifer Bauman, For OCLNN
blue_light_mine_1Most Orange County residents, even natives, probably don’t know that the county was once home to two mining boom towns: the silver-mining town of Silverado, and Carbondale, which thrived on coal.

At the peak of the county’s mining frenzy in the late 1800s, Silverado Canyon’s population jumped to about 1,500, creating a bustling community that included three hotels, several stores, a couple blacksmith shops and two post offices. More than a half-dozen saloons quenched miners’ thirst and numerous brothels flourished to satisfy their physical desires.

Assistant archivist Chris Jepsen of the OC Archives says the county’s mining boom was short-lived because the local bedrock is so fractured that valuable ores are difficult to find.

“There’s a little bit of everything in the Santa Ana Mountains, but not enough for it to pay,” Jepsen said. “That’s why so many operations went bust.”

At that time of the boom, transportation to the canyons was rugged. There were three stagecoach trips a day from Los Angeles and three from Santa Ana, a rough ride that took four hours. Still, seats required advanced reservations and sold at a premium price.

The county’s silver rush began in 1877 after Santa Ana businessmen Hank Smith and William Curry spotted some silver ore while they were hunting deer in the part of the Santa Ana Mountains then known as Timber Canyon. The pair staked a claim and a quietly dug a couple tunnels before their secret leaked out in an L.A. County newspaper. Within a week, a rush of miners flooded the canyon, eventually filing 500 claims in a mining boom town renamed Silverado.

U.S. Deputy Marshal John D. Dunlap became the most successful of the Silverado miners after he discovered a sizable ore deposit while tracking a Mexican outlaw. Dunlap never caught the fugitive, but he did catch mining fever and established what would become the Blue Light Mine, which extracted quartz with a silver content valued at $60 per ton. The mine included six tunnels on five levels descending to depths of more than 350 feet. Miners used pick axes and explosives to extract the ore, which was carried out in small rail cars pulled by donkeys.

Other miners discovered “black gold,” or coal. In 1878, a Mexican named Ramon Mesquida found a seam of coal near the mouth of Silverado Canyon and established the Black Star Coal Mining Co., which gives the canyon its current name. Black Star was later replaced by the more successful Santa Clara Mine, which supported the town of Carbondale with coal that sold for as much as $7 per ton.

In 1887, Fullerton wheelwright Jake Yaeger started mining for gold in Trabuco Canyon, but OC’s hills never yielded any major strikes. Most prospectors just found micro-flakes and small nuggets.

Trabuco Canyon also was the site of a costly attempt to mine tin. New York milk magnate Gail Borden coughed up $1.5 million dollars to build the Santa Ana Tin Mine after a geologist claimed he found a rich deposit of tin ore there, but the mine closed after only 34 days of operation in what some believed was a massive swindle.
The Santa Ana Mountains were also mined for lead and zinc, as well as clay, gypsum and limestone. The area now known as Red Hill was home to the Rattlesnake Mine, where mercury has extracted.

Carbondale was abandoned by 1881, and the boomtown of Silverado faded about two years later. The Blue Light Mine reopened for a short time during WWII before the U.S. Forest Service removed most of the equipment during the 1970s and put a grate over the ent rance in 2002 after two Santa Ana brothers drowned in a flooded shaft. Some of the miners’ rustic cabins were converted into cottages, which remain in Silverado today. The only evidence that Carbondale ever existed is a historical marker at 8002 Silverado Canyon Road.
OC oil: Are we ready for a big spill?
By Jennifer Bauman, for OCLNN
With seven active oil platforms off its coast, Orange County has the potential for a devastating leak similar to the one caused by an explosion last month in the Gulf of Mexico.

Located off the coasts of Huntington Beach and Seal Beach, the platforms are operated by three oil exploration companies: Pacific Energy Resources, a Long Beach company that recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; Aera Energy, a Bakersfield corporation; and DCOR, a Ventura-based company.

If one of the platforms were to leak, the U.S. Coast Guard would be the lead agency to respond, according to Lt. Anastacia Thorsson. She says Orange County’s sensitive habitat means local emergency crews are on their toes.

“Here the response time would have to be faster (than the Gulf) because our oil rigs are much closer to shore … EPA would get involved very, very quickly,” Thorsson said.

Santa Barbara’s infamous spill in 1969 showed the potential damage to the California coast. A blowout on a platform (now operated by DCOR) spewed 200,000 gallons of crude oil into the Santa Barbara Channel. It soaked 40 miles of coastline. Large numbers of seals and dolphins were poisoned and the oil killed thousands of sea birds, spurring the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Orange County has its own experience dealing with a major oil spill. In February 1990, the oil tanker American Trader ran over its own anchor and gashed holes in its hull while trying to dock near the Huntington Beach Pier.

The damaged tanker, operated by British Petroleum, dumped more than 400,000 gallons of crude oil into the HB surf. A day later, the black smelly goo came onshore, eventually coating 15 miles of sand in Surf City and Newport Beach with toxic gunk. Thousands of birds and fish died while 1,300 workers mopped up the mess at a cost of $10 million.

The Coast Guard has a plan for any future spills in Orange County, Thorsson said. At a strategic location it would set up a central command center to coordinate rescue, containment and clean-up efforts by public and private entities.

Pacific Energy, Aera and DCOR are required to file their own contingency plans with federal and state officials, undergo frequent inspections and practice emergency drills with their employees. All three firms provide funding for an oil spill co-op called the Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC) which provides the ships, equipment and trained personnel for rapid responses.

DCOR has a training exercise posted online showing how drillers lower a boom into the water and MSRC vessels create a U-shaped enclosure around a potential spill.
The oil spill drill ends with the following bullet points:

Officials at Aera Energy list worker safety and environmental protection as their top priorities. Surprize drills are hosted on platform Emmy where numerous upgrades have been made, including earthquake reinforcements, computerized monitoring and fire prevention improvements.

The Coast Guard will host a large-scale training exercise later this month where oil spill containment will be one component of a terrorism drill called Operation Port Protector. It will be combined with a statewide drill dubbed Operation Golden Guardian 2010, which will be the largest catastrophic training event in the U.S.