Published Jan. 14, 2023
BY SOPHIA BONE
When school was canceled this past Tuesday and Wednesday, it may have seemed like a blessing to some Carmel Unified School District students who used their extra days of break to sleep in or binge-watch the newest season of “Ginny and Georgia” on Netflix. For others, though, these days were spent helping family and neighbors recover from flooding and mudslides caused by recent storms across the Monterey Peninsula, anxiously waiting for the rain to stop–rain which caused a level of flooding not seen locally since the 1990s.
Flor Martinez, a Carmel High School sophomore who lives an hour and a half from campus by bus off Cachagua Road, spent the end of her winter break helping her family prepare for flooding from the river that runs just two houses away from her own.
“Monday, while neighbors were helping take down the tree that fell into the river,” Martinez explains, “my sister and I helped fill up sandbags, and then my dad and uncles took them over to the river so they could build a kind of wall to block the water.”
Although power had gone out with no estimated time of return, the main issue for Martinez and her family were the mudslides making it difficult to leave their home. CUSD Superintendent Ted Knight issued a district closure Tuesday and Wednesday, yet Martinez knew she would not be able to attend in any case due to road closures.
Big Sur resident Athena Wilson, a CHS senior who lives almost an hour down the coast was dealing with a similar issue. With Highway 1 closures, power outages and a mudslide 50 feet from her house causing the waterline to break, she had plenty to deal with at home. Wilson believes that despite her struggles, a majority of her Big Sur neighbors with backup generators live high enough that they were not too impacted.
CHS sophomore Sebastian Danielson has a parent who lives 30 minutes past Carmel Valley Village. He describes passing through a stream crossing both lanes of the road in his father’s tiny but mighty Honda Fit.
“My dad has a small car, he isn’t one of those guys who has a big truck, so we decided to let this pickup truck go first, and we did make it through but it was definitely about a foot deep and we saw rocks and sticks and it was really crazy,” Danielson remembers. “Basically, there are no more rules about what side of the road you are on because most of the time one side of the road is completely covered in something.”
Rain levels were highest Tuesday with a high of 1.32 inches, and wind speeds as high as 26 mph as reported by the Monterey Regional Airport Station. Carmel River was at its highest point at 11:30 a.m. Monday at 12.69 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey website.
The flooding didn’t just impact people, but also their animals. Junior Reese Slocum lives right next to the Carmel River and noticed that at one point during the big storm Monday, every 15 minutes the river was getting 14 inches higher. This led to almost complete flooding into the corrals of her four horses.
“They have been outside for a few days because of the flooding that went into their stalls,” says the lifetime Carmel Valley resident. “Now they are up on top of the second kind of arena but they are all soaked.”
Even though her whole neighborhood was given evacuation warnings, Slocum and her family did not evacuate as their house is elevated above some of her neighbors’.
Many Carmel residents were issued this evacuation warning earlier this week: “The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office has issued an expanded Evacuation Order for low-lying areas of the Carmel River effective immediately and until further notice due to the incoming storm. If you are in an Evacuation Order Zone, quickly and calmly evacuate. Check with your neighbors to ensure they have been made aware of this alert. If you have large animals or need extra time to evacuate, now is the time to do so.”
In Mission Fields off Rio Road, flooding from behind homes near the river and off the street from rain caused CHS English teacher Barbara McBride to evacuate with her two children and pets Sunday night after a warning was issued. By Monday morning, the official evacuation order was put in place.
In the past ten years that McBride has lived in the neighborhood, she has had to evacuate twice due to flooding, so this instance wasn’t too uncommon for her family.
“By Tuesday afternoon we decided to come home,” says the single mother of two girls. “And most Mission Fields residents did go home also, even though the evacuation order wasn’t lifted until yesterday at 5:30, but it seemed safe as the river level had dropped considerably, and it wasn’t going to be raining.”
As Monday was supposed to be a staff professional development day led by McBride at CHS, the scramble to not only leave her home but also find a place to stay with a stable internet connection led her to booking a stay in Monterey. The event was initially moved online and then canceled by the superintendent Monday morning, but McBride said she was still happy she was able to leave and find a safe place for her family to stay.
Most evacuated families tended to stay with friends who had accommodations, like sophomore Sara Martin’s family, who were able to stay in a friend’s guest house in Pebble Beach for the one night they had to leave. Martin’s fellow sophomore Alexander Fredrick, who lives about 10 feet from the river in Mission Fields, had to live with family friends located near the high school campus for three days.
For those that did not have friends with room, multiple hotels throughout the county were offering discounts for families who needed to flee their homes. Pine Inn in downtown Carmel was discounting over $100 off their standard family-sized rooms.
The neighborhood of Paso Hondo near Carmel Valley Village was also hit especially hard.
“The Paso Hondo road itself became the river,” explains junior Zealyn Roth, who lives in the neighborhood and whose whole yard flooded. “That caused a lot of surprise flooding in the front of people’s houses from the road.”
The worst of the flooding occurred near the Dampierre Park baseball fields, where houses had to be pumped despite all the preparations neighbors made prior to the rainfall, including sandbagging and clearing all lower surfaces. During the main storm Monday, residents of Paso Hondo were restricted from going past the ballpark at all to get belongings; firefighters reported that the water level was rising one foot every 15 minutes.
For almost all impacted residents, the flooding certainly did not give people the restful end to winter break that they had expected. Martin recounts high levels of stress when her family had to pack up her belongings the day they had to evacuate, as she hoped everything would be okay when they got home. (The flooding did not get into her house.)
Slocum relates similar feelings about fear for the only home she has ever known.
“It’s kinda scary at night because when you are sleeping you just don’t know what is going to happen,” Slocum says after seeing her neighbors’ houses slowly get soaked during the storms.
Despite this fear, the sense of community that neighbors have fostered has become the true lifesaver for many homes.
“All the neighbors, we were trying to unclog culverts, and everyone was pitching in,” says student support teacher Bridget Randazzo, who lives near the Slocums. “My daughter went to go babysit someone’s kids so they could help fix a drain. Everyone really came together, which is nice.”
The firefighters of the area have been a huge help to many, and Danielson applauds them for their hard work in clearing trees that have fallen into the road. McBride, who’s thankful for the sandbags she was able to bring home from the Carmel Valley Fire Department, says, “They were just awesome out there.”
Many other organizations have started to help as well, including the Community Foundation for Monterey County, who have created the Monterey County Storm Relief Fund, whose aim is to raise money in order to support those affected by the storm and help with its aftermath like cleanup and recovery.
Donations can be made at cfmco.org/StormRelief.