WATSONVILLE—Santa Cruz County is considering making a disaster declaration in the wake of the massive rainstorm that brought flooding to several parts of the county, according to Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin.
The County is still waiting on responses from State and federal officials.
“Yesterday outperformed all expectations,” he said. “Everybody predicted this was going to be a normal winter storm.”
Crews on Sunday morning were assessing the damage to 43 roads in the unincorporated parts of the County that were impacted by the rains. This includes a sinkhole that formed on Glen Haven Road, and a culvert that collapsed on China Grade.
In South County, there was flooding on numerous streets, including College and Holohan roads.
While the Pajaro River is not expected to reach flood stage, Corralitos Creek in Watsonville went significantly over its banks, sending water into surrounding neighborhoods.
The County relocated and housed 27 people from a farm worker camp in Freedom, with help from the American Red Cross, Hoppin said.
Watsonville briefly opened a shelter, which closed soon thereafter for lack of use, Hoppin said.
Soquel Creek also rose more than two feet in less than two hours, surprising officials who are investigating the cause.
“We are trying to get a handle on what went on there,” Hoppin said. “That is a lot in a very short amount of time, and it makes us wonder whether there was a blockage upstream that released, or something like that.”
The rains led to widespread flooding, road closures, evacuations, power outages and toppled power and communication lines and scores of people trapped in their homes.
By late afternoon Saturday, Corralitos and Salsipuedes creeks bulged with built-up rainwater as intersections such as Holohan Road at Green Valley Road and Holohan at College Road and Riverside Drive at Bridge and Blackburn streets began to flood. In several spots some vehicles began to float and collide with one another or through fences and across landscaping.
Tuttle Street and surrounding streets in Bay and Pajaro villages turned into rapidly flowing rivers of dark brown water by 8pm.
Watsonville firefighters evacuated numerous residents along Delta Way into the night after flood waters began to seep into their homes.
“We had no warning at all; my friend told me I had to get out,” said Robert Carrancho, who lives at the corner of Atri Court and Delta Way. “That’s when I noticed my parked car was filling up with water. The water didn’t get into my house. No police came to my door. I saw the fire department go by. But my car is gone, it’s a total loss.”
Hoppin said that the County issued flood advisories in advance of the flooding, and sent out reverse-911 calls to the residents who were at risk. A wider alert, he added, is used only during serious emergencies.
Watsonville City Councilwoman Ari Parker, whose District 7 includes the areas that were flooded, said that communication measures fell short of alerting the community in a timely manner.
The reverse-911 calls came after the floodwaters had arrived, she said, and while police officers and firefighters were staged at either end of the affected neighborhoods—and fire officials were warning people to shelter in place—there was nobody coming to offer help, Parker said.
Parker said the water flowing down Bridge Street “was like a rushing river” as it continued onto nearby streets, knocked over a retaining wall at Vista Montana and entered garages and homes.
“The water was everywhere,” she said. “It was on Delta, it was on Bronte, it was everywhere in the senior villages.”
The floods also affected Argos Circle, she said.
Parker said that the floods came despite the measures the City has put in place—such as a pump station at Vista Montana and an overflow pond at Pajaro Vista.
Instead, the water came from a swollen Corralitos Creek, which is under the purview of Santa Cruz County, Parker said.
“They could have kept a better watch on Corralitos Creek,” she said. “No place in the City of Watsonville flooded like we did and it all came from County water. They should have been on top of that.”
Watsonville City Manager Rene Mendez said that the City is looking into what went wrong, and when.
“We’re assessing that,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out what we could have done better.”
Mendez said that all the City’s pump stations and other infrastructure worked, but stopped short of assigning a cause.
“I can tell you that we were all on call and monitoring that,” he said. “Something happened that we weren’t expecting, but we’re trying to figure out how we can improve that.”
As the waters receded on Sunday, County officials were preparing for a rainstorm on Wednesday night that is expected to bring at least as much rain as Saturday’s.
The County is also planning on putting up a disaster recovery web page for businesses and homeowners impacted by the floods, Hoppin said.
On Village Way at Delta Way large swaths of the ground were carved away by flood waters, allowing powerful streams of water to infiltrate the neighborhood of Pajaro Vista and into Pajaro Village.
“The water was gushing high into the air and mud and rocks were streaming into my street,” said a woman who only gave the name Nan. “It was terrifying. The water came right up to our property but not into my house.”
Nan said she’d lived at the home since 2012 and had never seen anything close to the New Year’s Eve flooding.
Atri Court resident Andy Gonzalez said the water reached four inches inside his home, and stayed there until 11pm.
“I’ve been here 12 years and I’ve never seen it like this,” he said.
Wedding photographer and planner Hayne Benick said she was helping people with a New Year’s wedding when she got trapped in her Toyota minivan on Atri Court. After her car died, Benick said she ran barefoot through waist-deep water carrying two dogs, until a man in a kayak came to rescue her.
The kayak proved too unstable, she said, and she stayed put.
“It was the most terrifying night of my life,” she said.
Throughout the day Sunday residents and others pitched in to clear mud and debris in front of their homes, driveways and sidewalks. Heavy mud carpeted numerous streets and several barricades were still in place along College Road where water continued to gush onto the pavement from Salsipuedes and Corralitos creeks.
Bay Village resident Woody Rehanek, who said he’s lived in his home for the past 18 years, said he’s never seen anything close to Saturday night’s flooding.
The City is now preparing for the next storm on Wednesday, Mendez said, and will open a second sandbag station at Ramsay Park, in addition to the one at Fire Station 1 at 115 Second St.
The best thing residents can do to protect themselves is to stay informed, Hoppin said.
“That’s one thing we want people to do is maintain weather awareness, especially into this next storm,” he said. “Turn on the news. Follow authoritative accounts on social media, whether that’s the National Weather Service or the City of Watsonville or County sites or CHP.”
Parker also said that the information available during the flooding was inaccurate, including the website aware.zonehaven.com, which showed that the flood risk for her neighborhood was “normal,” despite having already been flooded.
“They never changed that the entire night,” she said. “If there had been a better response from the county, then there would have been better communication.
“It was a very distressing New Year’s Eve for almost all of the senior village,” she said.