While the series of major storms hitting California have begun to subside, residents of San Jose are being warned to keep away from affected homes until water levels decrease to a safe level. Flash floods along the west coast of the US have seen thousands of people forced to leave their homes and a state of emergency declared by California governor Jerry Brown. The majority of mandatory evacuation orders have now been downgraded for areas including Sutter County around the Oroville Dam Spillway, which sparked panic one week ago when it threatened to collapse during the floods.
However, San Jose, the 10th largest city in the US, remains one of the most substantial urban regions affected, with 14,000 resident evacuated and more than 36,000 homes estimated to be hit by floodwater, reports the San Francisco Gate.
To get a sense of the water damage, the following drone footage shows the extent of the flooding in San Jose.
— CNN (@CNN) February 23, 2017
City Mayor Sam Liccardo has admitted failures in the official response to the storm crisis. “If the first time that a resident is aware that they need to get out of a home is when they see a firefighter in a boat, then clearly something went wrong,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said, report KQED News. “We are assessing what it is that led to that failure.”
The reason for the city's dire predicament is that over the last two weeks, heavy rains pushed water levels at Santa Clara County’s largest reservoir into the danger zone. That happened over the weekend, sending massive amounts of water into the Coyote Creek, which runs through the heart of San Jose. By Tuesday, the creek was overflowing at numerous locations, inundating neighborhoods, flooding hundreds of homes and forcing the frantic evacuations of more than 14,000 residents, who remained out of their homes Wednesday, the LA Times reported.
The worst flooding to hit Silicon Valley in a century left San Jose reeling and residents angry about why they were not given more warning that a disaster was imminent. Even city officials on Wednesday conceded they were caught off guard by the severity of the flooding and vowed a full investigation into what went wrong.
Floodwater surrounds homes in San Jose on Wednesday
Late Wednesday, Assistant City Manager Dave Sykes said officials had learned that the information they had on the capacity of Coyote Creek channel was not accurate. He also said the city was working with the Santa Clara Valley Water District to determine whether debris caused blockages that contributed to flooding.
Neighbors talk in front of their homes, which were inundated after Coyote Creek overflowed
“The creek spilled over the banks faster and higher than anybody expected,” said city spokesman David Vossbrink.
Ricardo Juarez, who has lived in this house for six years, works to free his van Wednesday
Officials said that on Thursday they would focus on assessing the damage and getting residents back home.
Homes and cars are swamped on Wednesday in San Jose
The approximately 14,000 people under mandatory evacuations hailed mostly from central San Jose. Evacuation advisories were also issued to 36,000 residents in a zone that covered a business and industrial area along a roughly seven-mile stretch of Coyote Creek.
Floodwaters surround a play structure in San Jose
By Wednesday evening, city officials had lifted some mandatory evacuations for homes north of Interstate 280. They also revised the number of residents impacted by evacuation advisories down to 22,000.
Cars are covered by floodwater on Wednesday. The Coyote Creek crested to 13.6 feet at a river gauge point on Tuesday
“We haven’t really had anything quite like this before,” Vossbrink said.
Rescuers in chest-deep water steer boats carrying dozens of people, some with babies and pets
Meanwhile, the local government of San Jose has issued an emergency alert declaring that while flood water is creeping back, residents should not return to their homes until authorities deem it safe to do so. The notice informs people to be wary of live electrical units in flooded buildings and structurally unsound walls.
Rescuers travel by boat through a flooded neighborhood looking for stranded residents in San Jose.
The good news, according to a San Jose emergency alert, is that the “water is beginning to subside, however, levels are still high. Many areas are still unsafe to access. The City continues to send in teams to assess damage and determine when it is safe for residents to return to their homes.”
Cars are submerged in a flooded neighborhood in San Jose.
“Flood water and homes, cars, and belongings that have been flooded should be treated as contaminated.” Evacuation notices are still in place in the Oakland and Rock Springs Area of San Jose. A map of the areas still out of bounds for people has been listed on the San Jose government website. Meanwhile, homes to the south of the city near Lexington Reservoir and Anderson Lake remain in flood danger zones.
For the next few days, California will be dry. But according to weather reports by the United States Geological Survey the rain respite will last until Sunday, when another “storm system is predicted to bring 1-3 inches of rain to the regions on Sunday.”