By Jack Phillips
Thousands of residents were forced to evacuate in a Northern California community after a levee broke on Saturday amid yet another round of heavy rainfall to impact the Golden State, officials said.
A levee on the Pajaro River broke about three miles east of Pajaro, near the city of Watsonville, officials told local media, adding that the river’s levee failed at around midnight. Photos and aerial video footage showed homes, businesses, schools, and cars flooded with several feet of water.
“My heart hurts tonight for the residents of Pajaro. We were hoping to avoid and prevent this situation, but the worst case scenario has arrived with the Pajaro River overtopping and levee breaching at about midnight,” Luis Alejo, chair of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, wrote in a Twitter post. A flood warning for the area is still in effect, according to the National Weather Service, noting that Pajaro River flooding is impacting Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara counties.
More than 50 people needed to be rescued as another “atmospheric river” hit California, delivering more rain to the already-waterlogged state, according to the California National Guard. Some 2,000 Pajaro residents were under mandatory evacuation this weekend, a map posted by Monterey County shows.
Officials had been working along the levee in the hopes of shoring it up when it was breached around midnight Friday into Saturday. Crews began working to fix the levee around daybreak Saturday as residents slept in evacuation centers.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office on Saturday said it was monitoring the situation in Pajaro. “Our thoughts are with everyone impacted and the state has mobilized 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 region.
As of Sunday, there were about 6,700 customers in the county without electricity, according to data from Poweroutage.us.
In other parts of the state, officials in San Luis Obispo County and Kern County ordered evacuations due to flooding. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, declared a federal emergency due to the storms.
More on the Way
The atmospheric river—known as a “Pineapple Express” because it brought warm subtropical moisture across the Pacific from near Hawaii—was melting lower parts of the huge snowpack built in California’s mountains. Yet another atmospheric river is already in the forecast for early next week.
State weather official Michael Anderson said a third appeared to be taking shape over the Pacific and possibly a fourth and that California appeared to be “well on its way to a fourth year of drought” before the early winter series of storms. “We’re in a very different condition now,” he added, noting the heavy rain and snow in recent months.
The National Weather Service on Saturday forecasted an intensified bout of rain and snow Monday through Wednesday, with considerable flooding possible along the state’s central coast, San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, and the southern Sierra Nevada foothills into midweek.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.