Storm breaks California river levee, thousands evacuate

WATSONVILLE: A Northern California farming community famous for its strawberry crop was forced to evacuate early Saturday after the Pajaro RiverIt is dyke was breached by flooding from a new atmospheric river that hit the state.
In Monterey County on the Central Coast, more than 8,500 people were under evacuation orders and warnings on Saturday, including about 1,700 residents — many of whom were Latino farmworkers — from the uninhabited community. incorporated in Pajaro.
Officials said the breach in the Pajaro River levee is about 100 feet (30.48 meters) wide. Crews had gone door-to-door on Friday afternoon urging residents to leave before the rains arrived, but some stayed and had to be removed from flood waters early Saturday.
First responders and the California National Guard rescued more than 50 people overnight. Video showed a member of the Guard helping a driver out of a car that was trapped in waist-deep water.
“We were hoping to avoid and prevent this situation, but the worst case scenario happened with the Pajaro River overflowing and the levee breaking around midnight,” Monterey County Board of Supervisors chairman Luis Alejo wrote on Twitter.
Alejo called the flooding “massive”, saying the damage will take months to repair.
The Pajaro River separates Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in the area flooded Saturday. Floodwaters that have entered wells in the area could be contaminated with chemicals, officials said, and residents have been told not to drink or cook with tap water for fear of illness.
Officials were working along the levee hoping to shore it up when it was breached around midnight Friday through Saturday. Crews began working to repair the sea wall at dawn on Saturday as residents slept in evacuation centers.
Oliver Gonzalez, 12, told The Associated Press that he, his mother and aunt were rescued around 5 a.m. Saturday in Parajo. He grabbed his laptop, cell phone, and a few important documents, but there were so many left in their rush to leave.
“I’m a little scared,” he said several hours later from an evacuation center in nearby Watsonville. “My mother’s car was left in the water.”
Anais Rodriguez, 37, said first responders knocked on the door of her home shortly after midnight. Her family packed about four days worth of clothes and made their way to safety. She and her two children, husband and parents – along with their dog, Mila – arrived at the shelter about an hour later with few answers about what it would mean for their community in the future.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s office said Saturday it was monitoring the situation in Pajaro.
“Our hearts go out to everyone affected and the state has stepped up to support the community,” the governor’s office wrote on Twitter.
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 headquartered in the area.
In 1995, the Pajaro River levees failed, submerging 2,500 acres (1,011 hectares) of farmland and the community of Pajaro. Two people died and the floods caused nearly $100 million in damage. A state law, passed last year, advanced public funds for a levee project. It was due to start construction in 2024.
State Sen. John Laird, who led the law and represents the area, said the project is now fully funded, but it’s just bad timing with this year’s rains.
“It’s tragic, we were so close to doing it before any storm hits,” he said.
This week’s storm marked the state’s 10th atmospheric river of winter, storms that brought huge amounts of rain and snow to the state and helped ease drought conditions that had lasted since three years. State reservoirs that had dropped to surprisingly low levels are now well above average for this time of year, prompting state officials to release water from dams to help control flooding. and make room for even more rain.
On Saturday across the state, Californians had to deal with torrential rains and rising water levels as a result of the atmospheric river. In Tulare County, the sheriff ordered residents who live near the Tule River to evacuate, while people near Poso Creek in Kern County were given an evacuation warning. National Weather Service meteorologists issued flood warnings and advisories, pleading with motorists to stay away from flooded roads.
In San Francisco, an 85-foot (25.91-meter) eucalyptus tree fell on the Trocadero Clubhouse early Saturday morning. The 1892 clubhouse, a historic San Francisco landmark, was badly damaged, with part of the roof crushed and the interior flooded.
Funnel clouds were spotted in the Jamestown area – the heart of California’s gold rush – on Saturday afternoon and the Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the Sierra Nevada foothills as thunderstorms and hail blanketed the area. Another round of tornado warnings were issued in Fresno County, nearly 100 miles (160.93 kilometers) south of Gold Country.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.


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