Residents are struggling 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 near the running water and turning the hose into a rain barrel below, which her family drinks from after cooking and boiling. .

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

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

“I know some people are criticizing us for not going, but there’s no flood risk, it’s somewhere else,” Alvarez said, pointing to the submerged Salinas Road to the south. ‘water.

Nearby neighbor Carla Loreto, 35, nodded in agreement.

“We don’t go around looking for danger,” Loreto said.

Alvarez said many families refused to leave because of the incident in January, when many residents of the city were evacuated. He said many residents have returned to find their homes destroyed.

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

“Covid puts him at risk,” Alvarez said. “We can’t shelter him now because his immune system isn’t so weak.”

“It’s good for us to be at home,” he added, “sleeping in our beds and eating the food in the fridge.”

The city seemed lifeless. Sandbags were placed at the entrances of bars, beauty salons and meat markets. The streets around the district turned into small lakes. Water covered the tires of parked cars; water was gushing out from under the manhole covers. Potatoes, lemons and leftover food packaging were lying on the flooded streets.

Alvarez looked at two sheriff’s patrol cars parked in the middle of the road near the bridge. He could not understand why residents could not be moved back to upper-floor apartments or away from flooded areas. Why couldn’t they let people in to buy water and food, he wondered? Or give them those needs, he added.

“I’m from Mexico,” he 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. According to him, in 1995, two years after arriving from Mexico, the city was flooded.

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

He felt that the recent storm that had caused the river to burst was worse. Strawberries, cabbage, broccoli grown in the area may have been destroyed. The job would disappear again.

His neighbor Loreto glanced at the parking lot below.

“I work at the gas station behind this building,” he said, pointing in the direction with his thumb. “I don’t know when they’re going to open this gas station.”

Pajaro was submerged during a severe storm last week, causing the river to burst. Repairs to the migrant town near Watsonville could take months to complete. Now another storm has moved in, bringing new worries.

Sheriff’s cruisers and the National Guard patrolled the area. Journalists stayed near flooded areas and reported on television.

Pajaro has always been vulnerable because repairs were never a priority, in part because officials felt it didn’t make financial sense to protect the low-income area, interviews and records show.

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

“We are the hardest working people and we help this economy,” he said.

Officials in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties are considering a plan to relieve flood pressure on the Pajaro River, which could include closing Highway 1.

Major utilities that cross the river under Highway 1 and the downstream sewage treatment plant are at risk of flooding.

According to Mark Strudley, executive director of the Pajaro Regional Flood Authority, the water from the floodwater is flowing through a gap under Highway 1, which is between the riverbed and the highway embankment, so it is “out of the riverbed.”

Because of this, “he is eating the gully right there. This erodes the ravine from the floodplain side, not from the river bank.

According to Strudley, major utilities, including sewer and irrigation, run through the river. As water erodes the dam, the integrity of these utility lines is at risk.

He said its location makes it difficult to fix — the only way to access the gap is through a small open space that stretches between the northbound and southbound lanes of Highway 1.

And since the roads cross a shallow bridge, an excavator cannot be used to repair the erosion. There is no need to throw stones or sand through the gap between the tracks, as this can damage the power lines.

“So if the water continues to erode through the rivers to the point where it reenters the river system… Highway 1 could overwhelm the river system downstream. In particular, the immediate downstream exception is the Watsonville Wastewater. treatment plant on the Santa Cruz County side,” Strudley said.

If the water rises or flows through the creek, he said, “we risk damaging parts of the plant and could send untreated sewage down the river and then into Monterey Bay.”

He said there are three ways to deal with the situation.

“One thing you can do is open the dam downstream from that point, a little downstream but upstream from the treatment plant, to allow the water to flow back into the floodplain,” he said. announced.

The second option is “Opening of the 1st highway. Mainly crossing the lowest point south of Highway 1 and the river and draining the water out of the floodplain.’

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

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

He said a decision could be made by Tuesday afternoon.

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