Hundreds evacuated as storm breaches California River levee

Monterey County officials said the break in the levee, upstream of the unincorporated community of Pajaro along California’s central coast, is about 100 feet wide.

Crews had gone door to door on Friday afternoon to urge residents to leave before the rains came, but some stayed and had to be pulled out of the floodwaters early Saturday.

A rescue in the water
State Parks whitewater technicians Jeremy Paiss and Bryan Kine swim to rescue 18-year-old Lizbeth Hernandez, who is standing on top of her submerged truck in Casserly Creek in Watsonville (The Santa Cruz Sentinel via AP)

First responders and the California National Guard rescued more than 50 people overnight. One video showed a Guard member helping a driver out of a car trapped in waist-deep water.

Luis Alejo, president of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, wrote on Twitter: “We had hoped to avoid and prevent this situation, but the worst case scenario came with the overflow of the Pajaro River and the levee breach around midnight.”

Mr. Alejo called the flooding “massive” and said it has affected all 1,700 Pájaro residents, many of them Latino farmworkers, and that the damage will take months to repair.

The Pajaro River separates Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in the area that flooded Saturday.

Officials had been working along the levee in hopes of shoring it up when it broke early Saturday morning. Crews began work to repair the levee around dawn Saturday as residents slept in evacuation centers.

california storms
Heavy rain washes away the 110 Freeway in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles (AP)

The Pajaro Valley is a coastal agricultural area known for growing strawberries, apples, cauliflower, broccoli, and artichokes. National brands like Driscoll’s Strawberries and Martinelli’s are based in the region.

In 1995, the levees on the Pajaro River breached, submerging 2,500 acres of farmland and the community of Pajaro. Two people were killed and the floods caused nearly $100 million (£83 million) in damage.

A state law, passed last year, advanced state funds for a levee project. It was scheduled to start construction in 2024.

Across the state on Saturday, Californians faced torrential rain and rising water levels. In Tulare County, the sheriff ordered residents living near the Tule River to evacuate, while people living near Poso Creek in Kern County were under an evacuation warning.

National Weather Service meteorologists issued flood warnings and advisories, pleading with motorists to stay off flooded roads.

A man with a bicycle in the middle of the flood
A man walks his bike through floodwaters in Watsonville, Calif. (AP)

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom declared emergencies in 34 counties in recent weeks, and the Biden administration approved a presidential disaster declaration for some on Friday morning, a move that will bring more federal assistance.

Snow levels in the Sierra Nevada, which provides about a third of the state’s water supply, are more than 180% of the April 1 average, when it is historically at its peak.

Officials reported that 32 inches of snow had fallen Saturday morning at the Mount Rose Ski Resort outside of Reno, Nevada.

Snowpack at high elevations is so great that it was expected to absorb rain, but snow below 4,000 feet could start to melt, potentially contributing to flooding, forecasters said.


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