WATSONVILLE, Calif. (AP) — A northern California farming community famous for its strawberry crop was forced to evacuate early Saturday after the Bajaro River broke its banks as flooding from a new storm surge hit the state.
Across Monterey County on the Central Coast, more than 8,500 people were under evacuation orders and warnings Saturday, including about 1,700 residents — many of them Latino farm workers — from the unincorporated community of Pajaro.
Officials said the bank breach of the Bajaro River was about 100 feet (30.48 meters) wide. Crews went door-to-door on Friday afternoon to urge residents to leave before the rains arrived, but some stayed and were evacuated early Saturday morning.
First responders and the California National Guard rescued more than 50 people overnight. A video showed a guard member Helping a driver out of a car stuck in waist-deep water.
“We were hoping to avoid and prevent this situation, but in a worst-case scenario, the upper reaches of the Bajaro River broke its banks in the middle of the night.” Luis Alejo wroteChairman of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, on Twitter.
Guest That is the flood “Huge,” the damage will take months to repair.
The Pajaro River that separates Santa Cruz and Monterey counties was flooded Saturday. Officials said flood water from the region’s wells may have been contaminated with chemicals, and residents were told not to drink or cook with the tap water for fear of illness.
Officials were working to break the bank between midnight Friday and Saturday, hoping to clear the bank. Crews began working to repair the embankment early Saturday as residents slept in evacuation centers.
Oliver Gonzalez, 12, told The Associated Press that he, his mother and his aunt were rescued around 5 a.m. Saturday in Parajo. He grabbed his laptop, cellphone and some important documents, but was left far behind in their haste to leave.
“I’m so scared,” she said hours later from an evacuation center in nearby Watsonville. “My mother’s car was left in the water.”
Anais Rodriguez, 37, said first responders knocked on her door just after midnight. His family packed about four days worth of clothing and left safely. She and her two children, her husband and her parents — along with their dog, Mila — arrived at the shelter an hour later, with few answers about what this means for their community going forward.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said Saturday it was monitoring the situation in Bajaro.
“Our thoughts are with all those affected and the government is rallying to support the community.” The governor’s office wrote on Twitter.
The Bajaro Valley is a coastal agricultural area known for growing strawberries, apples, cauliflower, broccoli and artichokes. National brands such as Driscoll’s Strawberries and Martinelli’s are headquartered in the region.
In 1995, the banks of the Bajaro River burst, submerging 2,500 acres (1,011 ha) of farmland and the community of Bajaro. Two people died and the flood caused nearly $100 million in damage. A state law passed last year improved state funding for the LEAVE program. It is scheduled to start construction in 2024.
The state senate represented the area that spearheaded the legislation. John Laird said the project is now fully funded, but this year’s rains have come at a bad time.
“It’s sad, we were so close to doing this before any of the storms came,” he said.
This week’s storm marks the state’s 10th atmospheric river winter, storms that have brought massive rain and snow to the state and helped ease drought conditions that have dragged on for three years. State reservoirs, which had dwindled to surprisingly low levels, are now above average for the year, prompting state officials to release water from dams to help with flood control and accommodate more rain.
Across the state on Saturday, Californians struggled with drenching rain and rising water levels in the aftermath of the Atmospheric River. In Tulare County, the sheriff ordered residents living near the Tule River to evacuate while residents near Bozo Creek in Kern County were under an evacuation alert. Meteorologists from the National Weather Service It issued flood warnings and advisories, urging motorists to stay off flooded roads.
In San Francisco, the 85-foot (25.91 m) A eucalyptus tree fell on the Trocadero clubhouse Saturday morning. The 1892 Clubhouse, a San Francisco landmark, had part of the roof crushed and the interior severely damaged by flooding.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared emergencies in 34 counties in recent weeks, and the Biden administration on Friday morning approved a presidential disaster declaration for some, which would bring additional federal aid.
An atmospheric river known as the “Pineapple Express” brought warm subtropical moisture from near Hawaii across the Pacific, melting areas under large snowpacks built up in the mountains of California.
Another atmospheric river is already in the forecast for early next week. State climatologist Michael Anderson said a third is taking shape over the Pacific, and a fourth could be.
California appeared to be “on track for a fourth year of drought” before a series of early winter storms, Anderson said Friday. “We’re in a very different position now,” he added.
The National Weather Service predicted Saturday that rain and snow will intensify Monday through Wednesday, with significant flooding possible by midweek along the state’s central coast, the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys and the southern Sierra Nevada foothills.
Another round of heavy, wet snow is expected to hit the Sierras and higher elevations by midweek, the weather service said. About 32 inches (81 centimeters) of snow fell as of Saturday morning at the Mount Rose ski resort on the edge of Reno, Nevada, officials said.
Dazio reports from Los Angeles.