Battered by destructive flooding, California braces for another atmospheric river storm

California was bracing for another round of rain starting Monday as authorities tried to assess the damage from severe flooding along the Central Coast and Central Valley that left dozens of entire blocks in lockdown. under water.

A levee failure on the Pajaro River in Monterey County — three miles upstream from the town of Pajaro — triggered massive flooding in and around the farming town and prompted evacuations.

More than 5,000 people in Monterey County were under an evacuation order or warning as of Sunday, with more than 400 people housed at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, a recreation center and a Church of Salinas. By Sunday afternoon, more than 2,000 people had already been evacuated, mostly out of the Pajaro area, Sheriff Tina Nieto said.

Flooding or mudslides had closed several sections of freeways Sunday morning around Watsonville in Santa Cruz County, including Highway 1 and both eastbound and westbound and State Road 152. The county Monterey remained littered with road closures due to flooding, downed trees or power lines, and storm damage and debris. And the flooding also led to the Sunday morning closure of another major Bay Area artery — Interstate 880 in Fremont.

Cars are partially submerged in floodwaters in Watsonville on Saturday.

Cars are partially submerged in floodwaters in Watsonville on Saturday.

(Nic Coury/Associated Press)

Yet another atmospheric river will bring further flooding problems to Northern California starting Monday and continuing through Tuesday evening.

The Salinas River continued to rise in Monterey County, prompting evacuation orders in the area northwest of Spreckels Sunday night. Officials predict the river will crest at Highway 68 in the early hours of Monday, which could cause extensive flooding in nearby farmland.

“The behavior of the Salinas River is unpredictable and coupled with the recent storms and flooding of the Pajaro River, we ask that you be prepared and plan for evolving circumstances,” officials wrote in a press release.

California emergency officials said on Sunday they were already coordinating plans to position flood response personnel, including swiftwater rescue teams.

“We map where the next storm is going to hit and put resources” – firefighters, National Guard crews, ocean-going vehicles – “in areas where the storm is going to be the most violent or where there are already rivers that are inflated, so if something happens, you can quickly get in and rescue people,” said Brian Ferguson, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

State officials are monitoring areas that could be affected and raising awareness ahead of the next round of storms with “our most vulnerable Californians” who may be hit harder or need more time to evacuate, including including the elderly, disabled, homeless or speaking English as a second language, Ferguson said.

The Bay Area saw swaths of rain showers and thunderstorms on Sunday, but “the focus will be on the next atmospheric river coming Monday night,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Patrick Ayd. A flood watch and high wind warning was due to come into effect for the Bay Area and Central Coast from Monday evening.

Weather officials warned that high winds along the water in the Bay Area from Monday evening “could capsize or damage vessels and reduce visibility”.

Future storms are expected to hit the same areas as the last round, Ayd said, with the worst impact at higher elevations.

In the aftermath of recent storms, “we have very saturated soils, which will make us even more prone to flooding,” and power outages are expected, especially around Monterey, Ayd said. Landslides and mudslides are also possible.

Thunderstorms and heavy rain brought flooding to Fresno County on Sunday evening, but forecasters are already looking to the next storm system to occur beginning Monday, bringing up to 6 inches of rain to higher elevations. raised in the region.

An aerial view of flowering almond trees partially submerged by flood waters.

An aerial view of almond trees in bloom in flood waters on Saturday in Earlimart, Tulare County, California.

(Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Jim Bagnall, a meteorologist with the Hanford Weather Service, said rivers and streams “are already high, so that extra extra water makes flooding our main concern,” especially in the Springville County area. Tulare, northeast of Porterville.

“Anywhere up in the hills is going to be concerning,” he said. Bagnall urged residents to “pay attention to the forecast. Listen to local elected officials. And if they are told they have to go out, heed the advice of the local authorities there.

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services warned Sunday that as rain, mountain snow and gusty winds descend on northern and central California, flooding and power outages could follow. He recommended people keep emergency kits at home, fill their vehicles with gas and sign up for emergency alerts.

Ferguson said that as the storms come and go, “these disasters really pile on top of each other,” increasing the risk of the levees failing. Across the state, emergency officials are also grappling with concerns about water contamination; roofs are collapsing from snow in the Sierras; plans to support nursing homes and other facilities in the event of power outages, and the future toll of mold in now flooded homes, he said.

“We’re more used to having wildfires in this state,” he said. “Floods are in many ways more difficult.”

Southern California will see rain Tuesday and Wednesday, with possible flooding in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, according to the National Weather Service.

“This next atmospheric river event doesn’t seem as strong, but when you have flooding on top of flooding, it just makes the flooding worse,” said Cindy Kobold, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “That means the next one could have more impact, because the ground is far too saturated, and we’re going to have additional rainfall, with gusty winds.”

Aerial view of cars on a flooded road.

Cars detour on flooded Route 144 on Saturday as both sides of Route 99 are closed due to major flooding in Earlimart, Tulare County.

(Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The biggest impact of the most recent storm was in the town of Pajaro, with a population of 1,700, mostly farm workers.

The levee on the Pajaro River failed late Friday night, Monterey County spokesman Nicholas Pasculli said. Patrols noticed “bubbles in adjacent farmland” at 11 p.m., the first sign of trouble.

The dike broke around midnight. The breach is about 300 feet wide and workers are bringing rocks and other materials to stabilize the breach before the next storm arrives, Pasculli said.

Andres Garcia, 39, said this was his third evacuation from Pajaro due to river flooding: another in January and one in 1995, when the town was flooded “even worse” than ‘Today.

He, his wife and 8-year-old daughter left town early Saturday after a knock on the door from a sheriff’s deputy urged them to evacuate. Garcia said they left before the water got too high and he had no idea what his house was like.

His neighbor Laura Garcia left after dawn. She showed video of the water lapping around her home – lapping against a crib, dining set and bookshelves.

Both sides of Highway 99 are partially submerged in flood waters and no cars are there.

Both sides of Highway 99 are closed Saturday due to flooding in Earlimart in Tulare County.

(Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Andres Garcia said many farm workers will be out of work as long as the water remains high and the fields are submerged.

“They can’t do anything while it’s like this,” he said.

Sheriff Nieto said nearly 200 rescues were made by Sunday afternoon.

The floods have also led to possible contamination of drinking water, they warned, urging residents of Pajaro not to use tap water for drinking or cooking until further notice.

Major flooding was reported in the Springville area of ​​Tulare County – where officials carried out dozens of water rescues on Friday morning – and in Kernville, where the roaring Kern River houses and mobile homes surroundedstimulating evacuations.

Valeriana López, a 55-year-old resident of Tooleville in Tulare County, said floodwaters did not enter her home but turned her yard to mud. She laid down boards to cross the yard and was looking for sandbags to create a walkway.

Sheriff’s deputies went door to door Friday night urging residents to be ready to leave, López said. But she chose to stay.

“I’m going to trust God, because we can’t do anything,” she said. “We have nowhere to go.”

Times writer Ian James contributed to this report.

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