After homes flood in Tulare County, decision to pave creek for new homes blamed

After the rain stopped Wednesday afternoon, the dominant sounds in northwest Woodlake were those of rushing water and gas generators.

On the outskirts of town in Tulare County, northeast of Visalia, dozens of homes have been repeatedly flooded since Friday morning as new storms battered California.

A new development was cut off from existing homes by a one-foot-deep, 10-foot-wide river of brown water, running around signs that read “Sold” and “Ready to move in!” before reaching a main street and being channeled to a natural creek bed.

Keylan Liles, who has lived in a house on West Cajon Avenue for decades, said he had “never seen anything like it”.

“Then they built this,” he said, pointing to the new development across the street, which he said replaced orchards and Antelope Creek with ribbons of asphalt.

A woman holds a young boy on a mud covered street next to pumps, pipes and sandbags in front of a house

Madisyn Liles holds her 1-year-old son Luka as pumps drain floodwater from their home in Woodlake.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

His wife, Madisyn Liles, stood outside their home holding her 1-year-old son, Luka. Their home flooded for the first time on Friday, but an evacuation warning didn’t come until Wednesday morning, they said, days after they designed a pump system to drain water from their home.

Now the house was mostly dry, but like almost every other in the neighborhood, its exterior walls showed water marks several feet high.

“Our house would have been much more flooded without the pumps,” Madisyn said.

The Liles still stayed at home, where sandbags had prevented water from entering the main living areas. They are relatively lucky.

A block away and slightly downhill, the Zaragoza family home had those ubiquitous water marks and sandbags. Unlike the Liles, the Zaragozas left on Friday to stay with a relative in a drier part of town.

When they were leaving, 3 feet of water had flooded their house. After their neighborhood largely dried up, heavy rains on Tuesday flooded it again.

A man puts his hands on his head in a muddy living room while a woman places items in a plastic trash bag.

An exasperated Irineo Zaragoza and his wife, Veronica, try to salvage the belongings of their flooded home in Woodlake.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

“Everything goes in the trash,” Irineo Zaragoza, 51, said in Spanish as he carried bags containing the family’s belongings to the sidewalk.

Zaragoza, a beekeeper, said he couldn’t work because he had to get everything out of his house as quickly as possible to avoid further damage.

Inside his house, mud covered the floors. The air smelled bad.

“It was beautiful before,” Zaragoza wife Veronica said of their five-year-old home, “and now it’s ugly.”

The family is unhappy with the local authorities’ response: “No hotel, no food, nothing,” said Irineo Zaragoza. “We have been abandoned by the city.

Their neighbor Joshua Matthew Diaz, 34, said the water rose to his knees on Friday.

“Most of our house was a total loss,” he said.

Like many in the neighborhood, he wondered if the new development had contributed to the flooding.

It “was made at the top of the creek,” he said. He wrote to the city to ask how the homes were approved and what their environmental impact statement says.

A man drags sheets down a wet alley in front of a tarp-covered house with piles of sandbags outside.

Irineo Zaragoza drags muddy sheets out of her home in Woodlake.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

The land “was a basin” before it was developed, Diaz said, with orchards and a stream.

Yanez Homes, developer of the Hillside Estates, said in a statement to The Times that the storm surge that hit the state was “unprecedented” and that the development was “constructed in accordance with all applicable municipal drainage requirements. and other buildings”. requirements.”

Like Zaragoza, Diaz had no flood insurance. When he called, the company offered him a policy starting in 30 days. He sighed. “I need relief now.”

Diaz, a teacher from the nearby town of Porterville, said he received a letter from firefighters saying the floodwaters were “hazardous and contaminated” and that any affected furniture should be thoroughly cleaned or disposed of.

“The cost is going to be huge to try to bring these homes back,” he said.

Daniel Salgado, Project Manager for 911 Restoration, was busy with a crew cleaning a house around the corner. Wednesday was the first day the roads were clear enough for outside crews to enter and work on homes.

Floodwaters fill a street, covering part of a sign that reads "Ready to move in options available"

West Cajon Avenue is flooded in front of Hillside Estates in Woodlake.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Homes in this neighborhood are in the “black water category”, he said. “Everything must disappear.”

Contaminants in the water included feces and pesticides, Salgado said. His team will spend several days on the home, he said, and help homeowners “prepare for what’s to come” by moving valuables as more storms approach.

On a Wednesday afternoon under blue skies, Diaz helped neighbors remove items from their homes so they could be picked up by the Department of Public Works and thrown away.

The Zaragozas took mattresses, bags of clothes, medical devices.

“We don’t have any clothes,” Irineo said. “We don’t know what to do.”

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