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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Rick Hurd

Worry builds near Pajaro River in California as Highway 1 closed, another storm approaches

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Patricia Equihua couldn’t help but think of the strawberry fields Sunday. A 19-year resident of Pajaro, Equihua, a strawberry picker, was among the thousands wondering what to do after a levee along the Pajaro River breached and caused massive flooding to the unincorporated Monterey County town.

The town is composed largely of farmworkers, and those who work the fields don’t know what’s in store for their ability to live and to work.

“It’s very ugly,” she said. “What am I supposed to do now? Where am I supposed to work? Where am I supposed to go? It’s very calm right now, but I’m worried.”

Worry was understating it Sunday. Even amid flooding that closed a stretch of Highway 1 from Salinas Road to Highway 129, a second atmospheric river bore down on the region and Monterey County in particular. It threatens occasional rain Sunday and much of Monday before the real wave hits late Monday into Tuesday.

It’s the last thing needed for a community that “is underwater,” Monterey County Sheriff Tina Nieto said.

“We’ve evacuated about 2,000 people,” Nieto said. “Our public safety (personnel) has done over 200 evacuations in high-water vehicles and boats.” She added that authorities have rescued more than 200 people.

There have been no reports of injuries or deaths, authorities said.

The Monterey County Office of Emergency Services announced the full closure Highway 1 about 9:15 a.m. Sunday. It was the latest hardship for an area that saw evacuation shelters continuing to fill following a breach in the levee.

Flood waters continued to cover most of downtown Pajaro on Sunday morning. Army national guard trucks and humvees waded through storm waters on Main Street, a ghost town now with nothing but flooded-out cars, sandbags and residents still trapped behind the water line.

“It’s really sad to see the town like this,” said Margarito Rincon. “But there’s nothing you can do against nature.”

In the distance, more danger loomed from the next atmospheric river. It continued to push toward the California coast Sunday, its projected path expected to affect the flooded areas even more, and perhaps create new ones, according to the National Weather Service.

“We’re keeping a close eye on the Salinas River,” Monterey County spokesperson Nicholas Pasculli said Sunday morning. “That’s a big concern for us.”

A flood warning went into effect at 1 a.m. for the Salinas River near Spreckels, and residents there were urged to be prepared to seek higher ground. The river is a rare one in that it flows south to north, and Pasculli said areas along the river from Greenfield to the south and Gonzales in the north may be in peril.

As of Sunday morning, 3,400 people were under evacuation orders or warnings in Monterey County, according to Pasculli.

“We’re stretched thin as a county, and that’s why we’re asking people to pay attention and heed our warnings,” Nieto said. “We have four rivers in this county, and the ground is even more saturated than January.”

In January, residents in the county were forced to evacuate during another atmospheric river event.

Those who had to flee sought shelter at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds on East Lake Boulevard in Watsonville; the Compass Church on Main Street in Salinas; the Holy Trinity Church Hall on El Camino Real in Greenfield; and the Salvation Army Contra Costa Division on Contra Costa Street in Seaside.

“There are still room at the shelters,” Pasculli said. “We are looking to add capacity.”

Weather service forecasters said Sunday would bring light showers throughout the region but likely no more than a quarter-inch of accumulation. That will continue into Monday.

On Monday night, the full wave of the atmospheric river will arrive, according to the weather service. And that could mean at least 2 inches of rain and as much as 3 inches for areas of Monterey County. In San Jose, 1-2 inches of rain are expected, and 1 1/2 inches in Contra Costa County.

Winds also are expected to be heavy, and trees are expected to topple. Officials also are concerned about landslides, because the ground already is so saturated from previous storms that have hit the Bay Area routinely since December.


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