Joany Morgan looked at her home in despair, the blue-hued house sitting in a foot of muddy water just across from the historic Felton Covered Bridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Yet again, the San Lorenzo River had crested its banks, triggering a fresh round of evacuations Saturday as another winter storm battered Santa Cruz County.
“It looks awful,” Morgan said. “There’s so much stuff — our garbage cans keep coming and going, we’ve got so much debris and mud.”
Morgan and her family were already staying at a hotel, when the latest evacuation order came down but were hoping authorities would allow them back in their home on Saturday. She remembered nervously monitoring river level gauges online last week, watching as they showed the water level steadily rise.
“I must have fallen asleep,” Morgan said. “At 5 o’clock I heard the bullhorn — GET OUT! We took the truck and got out.”
This weekend’s storm — the latest in a series of at least seven punishing atmospheric rivers that have slammed the greater Bay Area since late December — ushered in another spate of dangerous winds, mudslides and flooding across the rain-weary region.
But relief could be in sight, as the relentless three-week deluge that’s caused an estimated $1 billion in damage and left at least 19 dead statewide was expected to clear for good by Monday afternoon. Drier weather is set to return for most of the rest of the week ahead.
“That should probably be that last batch of heavier rain,” said Chris Outler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “The brunt of the storm should wrap up after Monday morning.”
On Saturday, nearly 30,000 people across the state were under evacuation orders and warnings. South of San Jose, flooding and mudflows threatened to cut off access to Monterey Peninsula, where officials ordered evacuations near the Carmel River.
In Santa Cruz County, the swelling San Lorenzo River and Soquel Creek forced evacuations in Rio Del Mar, Soquel Village, Felton Grove and Paradise Park. Officials also urged residents in parts of Watsonville and Aptos to leave immediately.
But not everyone heeded those calls. San Jose firefighter recruit Roman Bodnarchuk, who has evacuated his second-story apartment next to Soquel Creek twice in the last two weeks, said he didn’t plan to pack his parents into his car and drive to a nearby hotel this time around — even as more than a foot of water flowed into his backyard Saturday morning.
“It’s just expensive for the family of four, and we also have two dogs, just to be evacuated for a few hours,” Bodnarchuk said.
Bodnarchuk’s parents are Ukrainian refugees who moved into his apartment just four days before the first evacuations in his neighborhood on New Year’s Eve. Since then, Bodnarchuk’s mother has been in and out of the hospital battling a serious bacterial pneumonia infection and the flu.
“I’m not processing this whole thing, because I’m more in survival mode,” Bodnarchuk said. “I’ll probably start thinking about this when we have some sunny weather … because it’s just too much. It’s very overwhelming.”
Powerful wind gusts topping 45 mph also tore across the region, knocking out power to some 16,000 households Saturday morning, with more than 1,300 customers affected in Santa Clara County and 2,600 in Marin County. It was an improvement, though, over the more than 100,000 households that were without electricity at one point last week.
“Even some gusts of 30 to 40 miles per hour have got the potential to cause trees to come down and some power issues,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Colby Goatley. “Roots can’t hold the tree up when everything around them is muddy.”
On Saturday, about an inch of rain was expected to fall across most of the Bay Area by day’s end. That’s in addition to the 8 to 10 inches of precipitation that has already accumulated across the region over the last 19 days.
During a visit to Merced Saturday afternoon, Gov. Gavin Newsom reflected on the 19 people who have died in the storms in recent weeks. “For all the focus that is wildfires in the state of California — just consider the last two years — we never had anything like that in terms of civilian deaths,” he said. “These weather events have taken more lives in the last two years than wildfires. That’s how deadly they are.”
A few miles north of Fremont, Saturday’s rain caused a mudslide that closed State Route 84 again in both directions. The road had just reopened Thursday, after road crews removed debris the previous storm pushed onto the roadway.
Parts of Highway 9 near Ben Lomond and Highway 156 near Hollister also closed Saturday. And both lanes of Highway 1 near Big Sur remained shut down with no timeline for reopening.
On Sunday, rain was forecast to continue on and off through most of Monday with drier weather to follow. There is a possibility of light rain Wednesday, but the Bay Area should be turning a sunnier corner.
“That should be the start of a drier trend,” Outler said.
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