Residents struggle to survive in flooded Pajaro

Dora Alvarez, 54, stood on the balcony of her two-story building in the flooded town of Pajaro holding a garden hose next to a gutter, swinging the hose to a rain barrel below for her family uses it for cooking and drinking after boiling it.

“As long as they don’t turn off the gas, we’ll be fine,” she said Tuesday.

Alvarez and his family, along with his next-door neighbour, were among a number of residents who chose not to evacuate the small migrant town that was flooded when the levee failed last weekend , forcing hundreds of residents to flee their homes.

“I know some people are criticizing us for not going, but the danger of flooding isn’t there, it’s somewhere else,” Alvarez said, pointing south toward Salinas Road, which was submerged in the flood. ‘water.

Standing nearby, her neighbor Karla Loreto, 35, nodded in agreement.

“We’re also not going to wander around looking for danger,” Loreto said.

Alvarez said many families refused to leave because of what happened in January, when many townspeople were evacuated. She said many residents returned to find their homes had been broken into.

She stayed this time partly because of her husband’s health. He has liver cancer and has to see his doctor once a week for chemotherapy. The next meeting is next Sunday.

“COVID poses a threat to him,” Alvarez said. “We can’t be in a shelter right now, not with his immune system so weak.”

“It’s better for us to be here in our own house,” she added, “sleeping in our beds and eating the food we have in our fridge.”

The city seemed lifeless. Sandbags were placed at the entrances to bars, beauty salons and meat markets. Around the area, the streets had turned into miniature lakes. Water covered the tires of parked cars; water was gushing out from under the manhole covers. Potatoes, lemons and debris from food packaging lay in the streets where the water had receded.

Alvarez glanced at two sheriff’s patrol cars parked in the middle of the road near a bridge. She couldn’t understand why they couldn’t let residents return to upper-floor apartments or away from flooded areas. Why couldn’t they let people in and out to buy water and food, she wondered? Or maybe just give them those necessities, she added.

“I’m from Mexico,” she says. “We are used to dealing with disasters there. We know how to survive, we just need a little support.

Alvarez is no stranger to flooding here. She said that in 1995, two years after she arrived from Mexico, water covered the city.

“It took two months to get home,” she recalls. “Two months. Imagine coming home and having to throw away all the food you bought and not having a job?”

She felt the recent storms that caused the levee to burst were worse. Strawberries, cabbage and broccoli grown in the area were probably destroyed. Work would disappear again.

Loreto, her neighbor, glanced down at the parking lot below.

“I work at the gas station behind this building,” she said, pointing in the direction with her thumb. “I don’t know when they will open this gas station.”

Pajaro was flooded last week during severe storms that caused the levee to burst. It could take months to complete repairs in the migrant town near Watsonville. Now another storm was moving in, bringing new concerns.

Sheriff’s cruisers and the National Guard patrolled the area. Journalists stood near the flooded areas to give their news on television.

Pajaro has always been vulnerable because repairs were never prioritized, in part because officials didn’t think it made financial sense to protect the low-income area, as interviews and records show.

After the 1995 flood, Alvarez recalled officials saying they would fix the problem. They never did.

“We are the hardest working people and we are helping this economy,” she said.

Officials in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties are considering a plan to relieve pressure on the Pajaro River floods that would include shutting down Highway 1.

Major utility lines, which cross the levee under Highway 1, and a sewage treatment facility downstream are threatened by floodwaters.

Mark Strudley, executive director of Pajaro Regional Flood Management, said water coming out of the floodplain is flowing through a gap under Highway 1, which is located between a levee and the highway embankment, “so it’s outside the river channel”.

Because of that, “it’s eating away at the dike right there. This erodes the dike from the floodplain side rather than the river side.

Strudley said major utilities – including a sewer and irrigation pipe – run through the levee. As the water erodes the dike, the integrity of these utilities is threatened.

He said its location makes it tricky to fix — the only way to access this gap is through a small open area that stretches between the north and south lanes of Highway 1.

And because the tracks cross a shallow bridge, an excavator cannot be used to repair the erosion. And there would be no point in dropping stones or sand through the opening between the tracks, as it could potentially damage the power lines.

“So if the water continues to erode through the levee in such a way that it re-enters the river system…it could overwhelm the river system downstream of Highway 1. And notably, the feature that is immediately downstream is the City of Watsonville Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is on the Santa Cruz County side,” Strudley said.

He said that if the water rises or seeps through the levee, “we risk destroying parts of the plant and could end up discharging untreated sewage into the floodplain towards the river and then eventually towards Monterey Bay”.

He said they had three options to deal with the situation.

“One thing you can do is open the dyke downstream from that point, a bit downstream, but upstream from the treatment plant to let the water flow back into the floodplain,” he said. declared.

The second option “is actually to open up Highway 1. Basically cut through Highway 1 and the low point that’s south of the river and let the water flow out of the floodplain” .

The last option, he said, is to do nothing.

The new storm hasn’t hit as hard as expected – so far – which could bring much needed relief.

He said a decision would likely be made by Tuesday afternoon.

Los Angeles Times

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