pajaro flood
A man and a woman carry children through flooded streets on Pajaro while wearing plastic garbage bags as makeshift rain boots in March 2023. Photo: Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

Will Norman stands in front of his home on Drew Lane wearing knee-high waders, up to his ankles in floodwaters that have inundated his neighborhood since a series of storms in January caused Corralitos Creek to spill over.

The recent storm on March 11 caused a 100-foot section of the Pajaro River Levee to break away, sending water roaring into the town of Pajaro, and into nearby residential areas and farm fields.

Officials have told him that someone will soon pump the water away to Corralitos Creek, but it is anyone’s guess when that will happen. The wheels of government, he muses, grind slowly.

“The water is just sitting,” he says. “There’s nowhere for it to go.”

Norman points up the road, where in deeper water a pickup lists, partially submerged in a sinkhole. Further up, some homes show evidence that water reached as high as six feet.

More than 70 sandbags he placed around his home failed to keep water and mud out of his garage, so he built plywood platforms in his backyard to hold the belongings he managed to salvage.

With mud and water filling the crawlspace under his house, it’s not clear how much damage has occurred.

Norman is among thousands of people in South Santa Cruz and North Monterey counties whose lives have been upended by the storms and subsequent floods.

Maria Cacho has been sleeping on the Pajaro Bridge with her two sons, 7 and 9, after she and hundreds of her neighbors were evacuated when the levee broke. She was among about 50 evacuees gathered on the Pajaro Bridge Monday, waiting for word of how their homes fared in the flood and for permission to go check.

But she says she and her neighbors have gotten little news.

pajaro flood spca dog rescue
Emily Leon of the Monterey County SPCA places Oscar in a truck after he was rescued from a flooded home in Pajaro by the National Guard. Photo: Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

“They’re not saying nothing,” she says, pointing to the Monterey County Sheriff’s deputies guarding the blocked Pajaro Bridge. “Nothing.”

Alexis Aguilar only had time to grab two sets of clothes and some of his important paperwork when Monterey County Sheriff’s deputies ordered him to evacuate from his Johnson Street residence around midnight on Friday. 

Like Cacho, Aguilar said he has received little information about when he will be able to return.

“We need answers,” he said. “Where am I going to stay?”

Jonathan Gonzalez was one of the lucky few allowed into the evacuated town, where he retrieved one cat, a bird, a guinea pig and two exuberant huskies.

The only reason he was allowed back, he says, was because his father-in-law stayed behind in the evacuated zone to care for the pets.

Nearby, two Monterey County SPCA officers were filling their trucks with the myriad animals they had rescued. This included at least one rooster, which crowed noisily from a cardboard carrier.

“We’ve rescued a little bit of everything,” says Investigative Supervisor Jacob Duarte.

Pajaro resident Hannah Northrop said she and her boyfriend moved to Pajaro in December from the Santa Cruz Mountains, where she saw parts of her community burn in the CZU fires, which forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

She is now seeing a repeat after officials came by her house around 1am to tell everyone to quickly pack up and leave.

“It’s the second time we’ve been under mandatory evacuation,” she says. 

When Northrop looked outside, she saw water surrounding her house, which had not yet come inside. For now, she has power and running water. 

“It’s a little frightening,” she says “I just don’t remember going through anything like this before. Right now, we’re just trying to get a plan together.”

pajaro flood rescue swimmers
A team of rescue swimmers are hauled through the flooded streets of Pajaro. Photo: Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian
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