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Watsonville
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February 4, 2023

Volunteer-led sandbag effort continues

City prioritizing resources for flood-stricken senior communities

WATSONVILLE—As the next major rainstorm rolls in, the City of Watsonville and local nonprofits are heading up a major effort to provide sandbags for local residents in flood-prone areas.

Scores of city staff and volunteers from Community Bridges, the Community Action Board, the California Conservation Corps and more, as well as individual residents and families have been preparing and handing out sandbags in various locations across Watsonville.

On Tuesday, a long line of cars stretched from the entrance of Ramsay Park on Main Street to the Overlook Center. At Fire Station 1 on Second Street, cars were backed up past Rodriguez Street.

When the Ramsay Park pickup closed in the afternoon, people made their way to Joyce-McKenzie Park. By 4pm, a line of 40 or so vehicles had formed.

“It’s intense,” said Gabe Gordo, Solid Waste Division Manager for the City of Watsonville. “People are getting really worried and I totally get it. We’ve been trying to get organized since yesterday. We’re running low [on sandbags]. We’re getting down to our last 10,000. You’d think that’s a lot, but it’s really not.”

Gordo, whose Public Works department has been working closely with Assistant City Manager Tamara Vides in organizing the effort, said they have had to start prioritizing residents of the most likely impacted neighborhoods. Residents from other areas, even some from out of town, had shown up at Ramsay Park wanting sandbags. 

“We’re concentrating on providing bags in the neighborhoods at higher risk, which are pretty much the areas that flooded on Saturday,” he said. “There are some people upset right now because we’re prioritizing that one group. But we have to. It’s not like we’re doing that arbitrarily, there’s a reason.”

On Tuesday night, a mandatory evacuation order was issued by the City of Watsonville for certain neighborhoods along the Corralitos and Salsipuedes creeks and the Pajaro River. The sandbag location at McKenzie was set up to be easily accessible to those residents. Volunteers from Community Bridges have been helping to deliver bags to residents who are ambulatory.

“It’s hard for a little city like us with limited resources,” Gordo said. “That’s been challenging. It’s a difficult balance. It’s hard to tell someone no, who’s worried about their home. But there are parts of town where you’re going to be OK, and others that are much higher risk.”

The City has received additional sandbags from the County, and traveled as far as Salinas and San Jose to pick up more. Gordo said that both Graniterock and Granite Construction have been on hand helping in the effort, and Assemblymember Robert Rivas’ office has also sent assistance. Private truckers are helping load and transport sand and debris, and local residents have shown up to volunteer on the spot.

“The community seems to be pulling together,” he said. “Neighbors helping neighbors.”

Resources: 

County Disaster Resources

City of Watsonville Flood Resources & Info

Community Bridges Emergency Preparedness

Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.

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