Carmel River Lagoon area threatened with flooding, evacuation order issued

Peninsula Premier Admin

SALINAS — As steady rain from the atmospheric river continued to pelt the region, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office issued an evacuation order for the Carmel River Lagoon area including all roads south of Santa Lucia Avenue and Mission Fields on Thursday morning.

“We anticipated a water rise,” said John Thornburg, a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson.

Thornburg said that people are told about the flood evacuation order but a majority “of folks have elected to stay where they are.”

The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for Carmel River Lagoon and surrounding communities that was to be in effect until 5 p.m. Thursday.

Early Thursday morning, the county Office of Emergency Services reported possible flooding of houses near the Carmel Lagoon and the Carmel River State Beach parking lot.

Due to the heavy rain, rapid rises were occurring on the Carmel River. Water backed up in the Carmel Lagoon near Carmel River State Beach, where flooding was already occurring as 2 to 4 inches of rain had already fallen with an additional 1 to 2 inches of rain possible for the area.

Thornburg said that people refusing to leave after being told of the evacuation order can put themselves and emergency personnel in a dangerous position.

“I’m not sure why they elect to stay. If something happens … these folks will need care and if we are able to get to them it can be precarious for deputy sheriffs, firefighters or whoever responds to this,” said Thornburg. “Not to be morbid, but we have to ask who is the next of kin” when they refuse to leave.

If deputies ask people to heed the warnings or orders, it is not because they are doing it on a whim. The Sheriff’s Office works closely with the National Weather Service and the Office of Emergency Services, which know storms and their impacts, said Thornburg.

“The warning was upgraded to an order at 9 a.m. (Thursday) morning,” said Carmel Police Chief Paul Tomasi. “We provided assistance with our (Community Emergency Response Team) 15 to 20 members, as well as our fire department assistant chief and patrol officers to help with traffic control issues.”

Tomasi reported that by early afternoon, the evacuation order would be lifted as the water was receding but said there was a well-coordinated effort with the Sheriff’s Office and Cal Fire.

“Our village did pretty well through this storm. Water runoff went well with only minor areas of water back-up, nothing beyond what we normally see during a rain event and no reported water damage,” said Tomasi. “We lost a few trees in town but again nothing significant.”

An Office of Emergency Services update at noon on Thursday said the Carmel River Lagoon sandbar breached a short time ago, however, flooding remained a problem. The evacuation map can be found at https://bit.ly/2KTdM9e.

The area of the order impacted approximately 776 homes and 2,500 residents. The temporary evacuation point at Toro Park School, 22500 Portola Dr. in Salinas, was available for assistance, information to power up devices. The temporary evacuation point at Chualar Union Elementary School, 24285 Lincoln St., closed Thursday due to localized flooding.

The storms have impacted many local roadways and continue to do so for the next few days. The Caltrans Quickmap at http://quickmap.dot.ca.gov/ shows live conditions.

“We’ve continued to have some isolated mudflow in the 800 block of River Road,” said Deputy Fire Marshal Dorothy Priolo with the Monterey County Regional Fire District. “Crews worked overnight to place sandbags and remove mud as necessary.”

Priolo said there were no new injuries to report Thursday.

As long as rain continues to fall, the Regional Fire District expects new earth movement and mudflows to occur.

On Thursday, fire district personnel began to assess the River Road area with a goal to visit each property and contact every resident or homeowner to see if they are safe and to offer assistance that may be needed for their recovery in this acute phase.

“Then they will need to begin working with their insurance agencies and contractors to plan on a long-term recovery of their properties,” said Priolo.

People in unincorporated areas can contact Monterey County officials to start learning about permits for repairing damage and short-term resource needs can be requested by calling 211.

“We ask that residents be patient as the weather settles down and county officials determine when it’s safe to return to their homes,” said Priolo.

Though rainfall is forecast to diminish, the ground is saturated.

“Remain vigilant, watch weather forecasts and subscribe to Alert Monterey County for notification of official notice about further evacuations and re-entry information,” said Priolo.

Highway 101 near Chualar was closed for a time Wednesday night because of flooding but has since reopened.

The closure of Highway 1 on the Big Sur Coast that began Tuesday remains in effect through Friday due to ongoing evacuations and to assess storm damage. The closure extends from Ragged Point in San Luis Obispo County to south of Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn in Monterey County, a span of about 45 miles.

Caltrans is working with local agencies to minimize travel into Big Sur to allow residents and businesses to evacuate in the safest conditions possible.

Monterey County issued an evacuation order Tuesday for areas downslope of the Dolan Fire burn scar, where the storm brings an increased likelihood of debris flows.

According to Caltrans, there are several areas of moderate damage, rockfall and mudflows on Highway 1 inside the closure area. Assessments are expected to take place Friday morning prior to any decision about a possible reopening of the highway or modifications to the highway closure.

Friday’s forecast calls for a 20% chance of rain then gradually turning sunny with a high in the low 50s. Overnight lows will be in the 40s. Saturday, expect mostly sunny skies with highs in the mid-50s turning to mostly cloudy overnight with lows in the mid-40s. Sunday will be partly sunny with highs in the mid-50s giving way to a slight chance of rain overnight into Monday with a chance of rain through Wednesday.

Contributed by local news sources

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