Flooded three times in two weeks, California town is fed up

Flooded three times in two weeks, California town is fed up

Using a plastic broom, Camilla Shaffer scrapes away the thick layer of mud covering her yard — the third time in two weeks that her home has flooded thanks to the string of storms that have rapidly hit California.

“I’m so angry, it just makes me want to cry,” said Shaffer, a 59-year-old Briton wearing muddy boots.

Just a few days ago she cleaned her porch from the last storm and now she has to start all over again. Upstairs her belongings are safe, but the furniture in her art studio on the first floor is destroyed.

In Felton, a town of 4,500 nestled in the mountains and redwoods on the coast south of San Francisco, people thought they knew the San Lorenzo River. It had blown up its banks several times in the last decade.

But this time was different, with locals saying they had never seen the waterway flood so wildly or so often.

Since Christmas, no fewer than eight storms have hit California, driven by weather phenomena known as atmospheric rivers — long plumes of steam that rise high into the atmosphere and come from the tropics. They hold large amounts of water.

So in Felton, parts of the town woke up under water on New Year’s Day. Then again last Monday. Then again on Saturday.

“Three times in two weeks, that’s crazy,” said Kevin Smith, a strapping 35-year-old who recently bought his parents’ house by the river. In the garage, the high water mark from last week’s floods almost reaches his head.

“Monday was the worst flood in 40 years,” said Smith, who restores vintage cars for a living. Others in the city share this assessment.

– ‘New Normal’ –

It is difficult to establish a direct link between these storms, which claimed 19 lives in the state, and global warming. But scientists say climate change is making extreme weather events like these winter storms wetter and wilder.

And in Felton, where couches, trash cans and other trash lie haphazardly on flooded streets, people fear this violent weather bodes ill for the future.

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“I hope this isn’t the new normal,” sighed Melissa Foley, pushing a wheelbarrow full of Red Cross-donated cleaning kits, which she distributes to her neighbors.

Like many people who live along the river, this 44-year-old environmental scientist lives in a multi-level house that she says was built to withstand “a 100-year flood.” She took her things up as the river rose.

“We know what we signed up for when we bought here,” Foley said. She said she likes living surrounded by the forest too much to consider moving elsewhere.

But for those less fortunate, the floods of recent days have been truly catastrophic.

Caught between the river and another creek overflowing its banks, Amberlee Galvin and her mother watched the water rise and rise in their home.

“Within 10 minutes it had completely flooded the ceiling. It happened crazy fast,” said the 23-year-old. “We had to canoe from a neighbor.”

Her house is still a stinking mess. The ground floor is flooded with toxic water, as the river carried with it gasoline, sewage and chemicals. An interior wall sustained extensive damage.

The house is in such bad shape that authorities have declared it uninhabitable for now, pending a more complete assessment.

“Insurance doesn’t want to cover the damage,” Galvin said. “If we can’t live here anymore, we might have to move somewhere very cheap, like Texas.”


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