As the rains ease in California, many see the damage rise
By Viviana Hinojos, Adeel Hassan and Vik Jolly
Cassandra Honeyman spent Saturday helping salvage what she could from her aunt’s home. Ruined furniture sat on the back patio, and mud covered the interior of the one-story country house in Springville, a rural community of 1,100 in the Sierra Nevada foothills that is surrounded by green mountains and the Tule River in the San Joaquin Valley.
Thankfully, said Honeyman, who lives nearby, most of the pictures in the house were protected; they were placed in totes on top of a bed before the flood arrived. But not much else was saved. She was grateful that her aunt and other relatives who lived in Springville were safe. But, exhausted and shaken, Honeyman acknowledged that uncertain days lay ahead.
“This house is completely totaled,” she said.
The storm system carrying streams of moisture through the skies over California weakened Saturday, bringing lighter rain. But in areas such as Springville in the San Joaquin Valley, and in towns on the Central Coast, residents and officials were only beginning to deal with the impact of flooded rivers and creeks, while other parts of the state that saw a respite braced for yet another storm next week.
Springville residents were evacuated Friday, and some, including Honeyman, returned Saturday to assess the damage. In coastal Monterey County, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, more than 1,500 people were ordered to evacuate early Saturday from Pajaro, a small agricultural community of 1,700, after the Pajaro River’s levee was breached by flooding about midnight.
Luis Alejo, chair of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, said on Twitter that “the worst case scenario has arrived,” noting that the damage would take months to repair.
Emergency crews rescued more than 50 people near the river Friday night and Saturday, with support from soldiers from the California National Guard.
The destruction reached as far south as Ventura County, just northwest of Los Angeles, where flooding closed off the Pacific Coast Highway.
Flash flood warnings were in effect Saturday for other parts of Monterey County, as well as sections of Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Tulare and Sonoma counties. But raging waters were already deluging some highways, farmland and rural communities.
More than 37,000 homes and businesses in the state were without power Saturday afternoon, with more than 28,000 of those in Monterey County, according to PowerOutage.us.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared 34 of California’s 58 counties to be in states of emergency. Since the storm system moved in Thursday afternoon, 8 to 9 inches of rain have fallen in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the National Weather Service said.
In parts of the state that escaped the brunt of the storm, some residents were still trying to get back to their normal lives.
In San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, where many residents in the mountains had been trapped in their homes for more than a week by snowdrifts up to 12 feet high, some people went about their business Saturday as officials reported that all county-maintained roads — totaling 516 miles — had been serviced, with crews working on creating second lanes.
A public information officer for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said that no new deaths had been reported and that no coroner’s findings had been released. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office said Thursday that there have been 13 deaths during the storm, but it had determined so far that only one was directly linked to it.
About 3,000 students of the Rim of the World Unified School District, which serves 17 communities in the San Bernardino Mountains, have not been in class for two weeks because of the weather, but the district superintendent, Kimberly Fricker, said Saturday that she was hopeful that they would be able to return by Thursday or Friday.
Before then, however, more waves of precipitation are on the way. Another atmospheric river — a storm named for its long, narrow shape and the immense amount of water it carries — is forecast for Monday afternoon and is expected to last about 24 hours, leaving inadequate time for the ground and the river system to sponge up all the water before getting soaked again. The storm will bring more heavy rain, with heavy snow likely in the Sierra Nevada. Meteorologists say this will be the 11th atmospheric river in California this winter.
“It’s not a reprieve,” Jerald Meadows, meteorologist in charge of the San Joaquin Valley Office of the National Weather Service, said of the interim. “It could give a false sense of security.”
Still, many residents are determined to recover. Honeyman, who has lived in Springville for 30 years, said her aunt, who declined to be interviewed, and her family would be staying at an Airbnb until they could begin to rebuild. And, despite the destruction she witnessed, she said leaving Springville was not a consideration.
“I grew up here, I moved here in first grade,” she said. “This is home, and I love living the country life up here. Unfortunately, this is stuff that happens when you live in a rural area.”
Everyone made it out alive, and no one was hurt, she added.
“Everything else can be replaced,” she said.