How ready are you for a flood?
Marilee French’s family has owned a vacation home in Capitola for 67 years. During that time, the house never flooded. But the downpour of torrential rain on Saturday, March 26, caused a pipe in Noble Gulch Creek to burst and a flash flood sent French frantically arranging for the transportation of her immobile 92-year-old mother, Eleanor, away from a rapidly flooding house.
“My mom and I came down for a nice quiet weekend at the beach to get away from the snow and we end up in a flood,” French says with an ironic laugh, noting thankfully that, despite property damages, all turned out well in the greater scheme of things. “This isn’t New Orleans for crying out loud—and it’s not Haiti, and it’s not Japan—so we’re grateful in a lot of ways, but sad for those who have had losses.”
Two to three feet of water caused evacuations across Capitola Village on March 26, causing the City of Capitola to declare a state of emergency. The flood damages are estimated to cost more than $17 million, and the city is currently seeking state aid.
Many residents and business owners worked together around the clock to reconcile property damages and clean up their village.
Marcy Mock, a special education teacher who lives next door to El Toro Bravo restaurant, says the restaurant staff worked with her to clean up the day after the flood.
Mock was set to move out of her downstairs unit and into a newly remodeled upstairs unit, the day the flood struck. Boxes full of her personal belongings, set to move upstairs, as well as furniture, are drenched beyond recovery.
“My landlord is having to deal with the property damages, and it’s really sad because they just gutted and remodeled both downstairs units,” says Mock. Though her landlord is responsible for damages to the unit, she does not have flood insurance so she will have to pay for any personal property damages.
Previous to Saturday’s flash flood, Capitola residents received flood warnings on Thursday, March 24. Thursday’s storm, which led to a flash flood warning in Santa Cruz, was not as drastic for Capitola as Saturday’s, and unfortunately, some residents waited until the last minute to prepare for flood evacuation. Officials have speculated that because Thursday’s flood was less damaging than Saturday’s, and because Capitola has never before experienced a flood of this stature, some were unprepared and may have suffered unnecessary damages.
To better prepare for future potential emergencies, Franceska Ramos, spokesperson for the Oakland branch of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), says the website floodsmart.gov is the best resource for disaster preparedness. The website includes a list of detailed preparation and recovery tips.
The top three flood preparation tips listed on the Floodsmart.gov website, are: safeguard your possessions; prepare your house; and develop a family emergency plan. The website provides detailed advice for each tip.
“[But] the one item you don’t see on the website, which is really number one, is flood insurance,” says Ramos. “We really like to encourage people to have flood insurance because that is the first way you have of protecting your home and your family.”
In order to safeguard your house, the website suggests creating a personal flood file containing information about personal possessions. The file should be kept in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box or waterproof container.
Aside from moving furniture, documents and other valuables to a safe location, floodsmart.gov’s suggested house preparations include anchoring any fuel tanks and raising electrical components like switches, sockets, wiring, and circuit breakers to a minimum of 12 inches above projected flood elevation. It also proposes elevating the furnace, water heater, washer, and dryer on cement blocks 12 inches above the projected elevation level.
Suggestions for a family emergency plan include a safety kit with essentials like drinking water, canned food, a first aid kit, blankets, a radio, and a flashlight. It also recommends educating young children about how to dial 9-1-1, and family rehearsals of safe flood evacuation routes. Other family-plan tips include designation of an out-of-state friend or relative as an “emergency contact,” and a premeditated plan to protect your pets.
The website’s final tip struck a chord with several pet owners during the Capitola flood—French included. After she had already safely evacuated herself and her 92-year-old mother to higher ground at the top of a nearby hill, she learned of potentially hazardous gas leaks. She braved the flood for a second time and rescued her cats, which were still in her flooded house.
“If the village blew up, I did not want my cats to go with it,” French says. “So I snuck down one of those little hiking trails into the village, grabbed my cats, and hiked back out.”
Although the bright warmth of spring may have some wanting to forget the rain, the city urges residents to keep track of the weather forecast as further seasonal storm systems approach.
For more information about flood preparation, as well as post-flood tips, visit floodsmart.gov or ready.gov.
The Capitola Village Flood Relief Fund has been established for locals looking to help with recovery and cleanup efforts. To donate to the fund, or for more information, call the Capitola-Soquel Chamber of Commmerce at 475-6522. The Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council, Capitola’s year-round visitor center, also offers specific information about how to help, including where to eat, stay and play in Capitola Village. To reach the center, call 425-1234, or visit 303 Water St. in Santa Cruz.
Photo caption: under water The Capitola Village submerged in water on Saturday, March 26.
Photo Credit: Lori Heath