Crowds of spectators stood on the Watsonville side of the Pajaro River Bridge, watching the swollen muddy river rushing below and the enclosed, submerged town of Pajaro on the other side.
Emergency responders – sheriff’s deputies, police, county divers and boat rescue teams – were parked along the bridge behind yellow tape.
Police and county sheriff’s deputies blocked onlookers from crossing, along with a few people who said they had family members or businesses on the other side.
A man, who declined to be named, said his grandmother was stuck on the other side in a flooded house. The police wouldn’t let him cross but took down his address and promised to check.
Connie and Victor Alvarez, owner of Alvarez Collison and Paint, said they were trying to get in to verify their business. They said they had been notified by Monterey County that their business was likely flooded and there was concern that toxic chemicals and solvents were entering the water.
As the most recent storm left the area on Saturday, this Central Coast community was among the hardest hit. A levee breach on the Pajaro River in Monterey County triggered massive flooding and prompted hundreds of evacuations and dozens of water rescues.
“So we’re here to check,” Connie Alvarez said as she waited for the sheriff’s deputy to check if she had permission to cross.
Javier Gomez, legislative analyst for Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, pointed out that water was rushing south and west along flooded streets in Porter, San Juan and Brooklyn.
“The water keeps coming,” he said. “It’s rising.”
Three blocks upstream, across a flooded area, three people were walking east along the river carrying large black plastic bags. Gomez said it was likely some of the “hundreds” of people who ignored evacuation warnings.
“I don’t know how many stayed,” he said. “But we made back-to-back saves all day. I feel like there were at least 100.
Monterey County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Hampson said many of the same people were evacuated in January when the river was high.
“At that time they were moved for about a week,” he said, noting that this time it will likely be longer – as teams will have to clear flooded and contaminated streets and homes and restore electricity in the area.
He said many people who evacuated last night are also trying to return to collect their pets and belongings. He can’t let them in. He said firefighters were taking down addresses and monitoring animals.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You can hear dogs barking in some houses.”
At the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, about 150 Pajaro evacuees were talking, drawing, browsing donated items — such as clothing and blankets — and preparing for what they thought would be a stay of at least a few weeks .
Andres Garcia, 39, said it was the third time he had been evacuated from Pajaro by the flooded river. He was here in January, and also in 1995 – when the city was flooded, “even worse” than it is now, he said. He added that he cannot work at the moment – the mountain bike shop that employs him is also underwater.
He’ll probably have to claim unemployment, he said, shaking his head. He, his wife and their 8-year-old daughter left the flooded town early Saturday after receiving a knock on the door from a sheriff’s deputy urging them to leave.
Garcia said they left before the water got too high, but he has no idea what state his house is in now. His neighbor, Laura Garcia, left after dawn.
She showed video of the water lapping around her home – lapping against a crib, chairs, dining set and bookshelves.
Andres Garcia said many people would be out of work as long as the water remained high, especially people toiling in the now submerged fields in the area.
“They can’t do anything while it’s like this,” he said.