County alerts residents in midst of heavy rainNo severe damage came out of last week’s heavy rains that pelted the Santa Clara Valley, but the downpour was a test of whether San Benito County was prepared for all the effects a major storm could bring.
Early in the morning of Jan. 16 as rain began to fall, San Benito County Emergency Services Coordinator Kevin O’Neill sent an email warning to residents that flash flooding and other disasters were a possibility, given the predicted rain.
O’Neill said the January 2017 storm that caused severe flooding in the area did not behave the way anyone anticipated, leaving the county underprepared and residents at a loss.
Now the county has changed its approach in the event that this year’s storms shift into something unexpected. O’Neill’s email alert warned residents living in areas that had flooded in the past.
“Residents in the North County areas of Lovers Lane, San Felipe Road, Shore Road and surrounding areas impacted by the 2017 floods should take additional precautions and prepare for potential flooding,” the email said. “If you feel the need to evacuate, do not wait for official notice.”
O’Neill told the Free Lance that two automated calls also went out to residents in the high risk areas, warning them that there was potential for flooding, The calls, O’Neill said, were a way to warn residents to be alert and ready to leave even if an evacuation warning could not be issued in time– another lesson taken from the 2017 storms.
“The reason we went to that level is that we were monitoring the levels of that creek, Pacheco Creek, which was estimated to rise to 8 feet,” said O’Neill. Although the 8-foot level would not have caused damage, O’Neill said, these estimates are typically off by four to five feet. Pacheco Creek overflows after reaching 12 feet.
While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) outlines and manages floodplains, the county has outlined areas of flooding in its General Plan. The county can help in taking preventative measures before disasters, but it is FEMA that helps with disaster relief.
“If someone’s concerned, they can always come to my office regardless,” said O’Neill. “We’re happy to always send someone out and help them prepare.”
O’Neill recommended residents use sandbags to help protect their homes from flooding. Sandbags were handed out by the county at designated areas prior to the storm.
If you would like to check if you are located in a floodplain, enter your address at https://msc.fema.gov/portal/home.