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January 28, 2023

Winter storm triggers evacuations, flooding in Salinas Valley

Heavy rains, winds and mudslides cause havoc throughout region

SALINAS VALLEY — Severe winter storms have resulted in road closures, evacuation orders and water rescues over the past week due to major flooding throughout the Salinas Valley region, with possibly more rain to come this weekend.

The latest storm, an atmospheric river, followed a “bomb cyclone” that lashed coastal California with heavy rains and hurricane-force winds beginning last Wednesday. Remnant showers continued through the weekend and flowed into the next pummeling rainfall on Monday and Tuesday.

An emergency shelter set up at the King City Recreation Center reached capacity by Monday afternoon, with 23 evacuees using the center that night. An additional site was opened later that day at the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds’ Pavilion in King City for residents in need of temporary shelter.

Sherwood Hall in Salinas was also turned into an emergency shelter, where there were 21 evacuees on Monday.

King City Library has been designated a temporary evacuation point during regular business hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 402 Broadway St., where evacuees can receive resources and housing information.

Sherwood Hall opens as an emergency shelter in Salinas due to the winter storm. (Courtesy of Monterey County)

Evacuation notices

Also on Monday, Monterey County Sheriff’s Office issued an evacuation warning for residents in the area surrounding San Lorenzo Park in King City, between San Lorenzo Park Road and Highway 101, as a result of flooding and the Salinas River rising from the storm.

In addition, evacuation orders were announced Tuesday morning for all low-lying areas of the Salinas River, as well as for residents of San Ardo due to flooding.

The Sheriff’s Office also issued an evacuation order for low-lying areas of the Arroyo Seco River, including Sycamore Flat and Millers Ranch, west of Greenfield beginning Monday morning.

Later that day, the Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard rescued two residents and their dog, who were trapped by flood waters on Arroyo Seco Road. They also received reports of possible subjects trapped under the Arroyo Seco Bridge, on the southbound side of Highway 101, but no subjects were located.

Greenfield Memorial Hall opened its doors Monday for any displaced residents until they could make other arrangements. The facility, which had limited resources, was not an overnight shelter.

“We will provide better long-term resource information at Memorial Hall for those who need it,” said the Greenfield Fire Department on social media.

According to Maia Carroll, Monterey County’s communications coordinator, an estimated 6,000 residents were under evacuation orders and another 1,200 were under warnings throughout the county as of 5 p.m. Monday. The emergency notices remained in place overnight and into Tuesday, when the number of residents impacted grew to an estimated 18,346 by noon.

“County emergency operations is expecting additional rainfall overnight, which will keep these areas at risk of continued flooding,” Carroll said Monday evening. “Please remain alert, pay attention to emergency messages, news reports and social media so that you can take action if needed.”

A car attempts to drive through a flooded intersection at El Camino Real and Apple Avenue in Greenfield on Monday morning. (Greenfield Police Department)

Additional closures

Flooding and mudslides forced a number of roads to close throughout Salinas Valley, including Arroyo Seco Road, Elm Avenue, Metz Road, Old Stage Road and River Road. Some intersections, such as at El Camino Real and Apple Avenue in Greenfield, closed as well due to flooding.

San Lorenzo Park in King City, along with Toro Park in Salinas and Lakes San Antonio and Nacimiento in South Monterey County, remained closed through at least Tuesday due to hazardous conditions. County staff plan to assess any damage before reopening the county parks.

Pinnacles National Park, east of Soledad, also closed Monday due to flooding from torrential downpours and high winds that created extremely hazardous conditions on park roads and trails.

“Having nearly exceeded our annual rainfall averages less than 10 days into the new year, most trail and road stream crossings are extremely swollen and moving quickly, and extremely strong wind gusts of up to 60 mph are causing rocks and trees to fall on roads and trails,” according to the National Park Service. “With rainfall forecasted to increase and intensify and conditions expected to worsen, Pinnacles will close effective immediately until such hazards are mitigated.” 

The west entrance road was closed at the park gate, and entry by any means was not permitted. 

“Trails are especially dangerous, with dozens of tree and rock falls, streams rushing over trails, and at least one bridge already compromised,” the NPS said. “Roads in some places are flooded over and new road obstructions are occurring with increasing frequency. No trails anywhere in the park are open or permitted to visitation at this time.”

The Campground on the east side, run by the Pinnacles Recreation Company, remained open to visitors with existing reservations; however, park trails and roads were still closed to everyone, campers included, beyond the campground.

Fending off storm damage

Prior to the latest storm, crews from California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Cal Fire and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife worked together as a unit to fill, transport and stack sandbags last week as part of storm response efforts statewide.

In the small community of Chualar, crews built a 200-foot-long wall of sandbags to divert debris flow away from a grade school on Jan. 4. They also filled 4,000 sandbags for residents to use to protect their homes.

“Cal Fire and other crews focused protection efforts today in Chualar, hoping this wall will divert storm water and flooding,” the County said last Wednesday. “K rails and sandbags were used to build a protective barrier this afternoon on the north side of this community near the school.”

Sandbags and sand were also available for residents at various locations throughout the Salinas Valley cities.

CDCR crews and other agencies help build a 200-foot-long wall of sandbags in Chualar to funnel debris away from a school on Jan. 4 before the latest storm. (Courtesy of Chris Lopez)
Crews from Correctional Training Facility in Soledad fill sandbags in the community. (CDCR)

Emergency declaration

President Joe Biden has approved an emergency declaration for California, making federal disaster assistance available to the state to supplement state and local response efforts due to emergency conditions resulting from severe winter storms, flooding and mudslides, FEMA announced Monday.

“The President’s action authorizes FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts to alleviate the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population and to provide appropriate assistance to save lives,” FEMA said.

FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance under the public assistance program, will be provided at 75% federal funding.

City of Soledad issued a statement Monday night reaffirming that it is not currently in emergency status.

“While some cities and communities in Monterey County have had to declare emergency status and activate emergency protocols, the City of Soledad is not in emergency status at the current time,” said the statement, which was posted on social media. “The City has been preparing for storms like the ones we have been experiencing for years, by doing things like continuously cleaning our storm drains and fortifying some of our levees.”

Officials said the City has a plan in place if it begins to experience in-city flooding or lose power; for instance, Soledad Community Center can be quickly opened as a warming center or emergency shelter if needed.

“Conditions in the City continue to be monitored on an ongoing 24-hour basis, with regular and routine patrols and assessments,” the statement continued. “Please continue to check the City’s website and Facebook page for updated information.”

Crews clear a slide on River Road in Soledad on Jan. 7. More than 70 loads of material were removed. (Contributed)
Ryan Cronk
Ryan Cronk is the managing editor for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for South Monterey County and the surrounding communities.

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