Santa Cruz County Storms: Where we stand on Sunday

Eric Stark in his home that sits between Beach Drive and Rio Del Mar beach in Aptos.
Eric Stark, who owns his “dream home” that sits between Beach Drive and Rio Del Mar beach in Aptos clears out all of his belongings. The combination of huge swells and high tides completely knocked out is front wall of his house and completely flooded the first floor of his house that he has owned since 2018.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Another storm moved through Santa Cruz County overnight, bringing heavy rain and high winds. There is more on the way. A second system is expected to move in Sunday night through Tuesday afternoon, bringing heavy rain through Monday. The storm is expected to drop 3-5 inches of rain across the Monterey Bay and up to nine inches at the highest peaks.

8:30 a.m., Sunday, January 8 — Heavy rains and high winds moved through the region Saturday night. The National Weather Service forecasts that the rain will lighten up through Sunday before another intense storm moves in overnight and into Monday.

A flood watch remains in effect for Santa Cruz County through Tuesday afternoon and NWS issued a wind advisory for Saturday into early Sunday afternoon.

At least 28 roads remain closed across the county. North of Boulder Creek, Highway 236 is closed near Little Basin Road because of a landslide across the roadway. Caltrans said there is no estimated time for reopening.

An evacuation warning remained in effect Sunday for some parts of Boulder Creek, though all other evacuation warnings and orders have been lifted. See a complete evacuation map for the county.

Watsonville issued a flood advisory Saturday afternoon through Tuesday for neighborhoods near the Salsipuedes Creek.

Pajaro Valley Unified School District said on Saturday that it would notify families on Sunday if any schools or district departments would be closed. Watsonville High School, Pacific Coast Charter School, Ann Soldo Elementary School are all within the flood advisory area, as are the district’s head offices and and maintenance and operations offices.

City of Watsonville flood advisory on Saturday, January 7
City of Watsonville flood advisory on Saturday, January 7.
(City of Watsonville)

Another round of rainstorms — the wetter of the two — is expected from Sunday night through Tuesday afternoon, with heavy rains on Monday. It is expected to bring three to five inches of rain in most of the Monterey Bay, and six inches in the mountains with the possibility of up to nine inches at the highest peaks.

Wind remains a factor as well. Parts of Santa Cruz could see 30 to 45 mile per hour gusts, with some of the highest peaks in the mountains potentially seeing up to 70 mile per hour gusts.

National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Brayden Murdock said many of the same concerns from this past week’s system remain for the coming storms.

“Our soils are fairly wet now, so a lot of the areas where we’ve seen flooding, we’ll probably see flooding again,” he said. “Some of the main rivers and streams are probably going to be stressed by the rainfall from the second system, so as we continue into the next work week, the areas that have seen localized flooding will probably see it again.

Murdock also said that the high winds in the mountains resurrect worries of fallen trees and power lines, and that the significant rainfall should prompt caution over slides and debris flow in the mountains.

A motorcycle rider braves the flooded streets in the Rio Del Mar flats on Thursday morning.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Crews throughout the county continue to assess damage sustained and residents to prepare ahead of yet another weekend downpour. The damage from the New Year’s Eve storm is estimated to be around $10-15 million, according to a county spokesperson.

Capitola Police estimate that six businesses were severely damaged in the storm and have been “red-tagged,” meaning they are not safe for reentry.

A large section of the Capitola Wharf was destroyed and lay in pieces along the beach.
A large section of the Capitola Wharf was destroyed and lay in pieces along the beach after getting hit with high waves during a bomb cyclone that swept through Santa Cruz County this week.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

At least 200 people throughout the county’s unincorporated areas have been displaced by the storm, a number that is likely to grow as county crews continue red tagging apartments and homes that are deemed hazardous and uninhabitable.

Jeff Gaffney, operations director for the county’s Emergency Operations Center, says that includes what he estimates to be a 25-unit apartment building in Live Oak near Corcoran Lagoon. Gaffney says his team is scattered around the county trying to identify as many uninhabitable homes and buildings ahead of this weekend’s storms.

There was no reported damage to homes and businesses in the city of Watsonville. Mandatory evacuation orders for some neighborhoods for Wednesday night have been lifted, and the evacuation center at Cesar Chavez Middle School has been closed.

As for the projected storms set for Saturday and Sunday, the city is monitoring the water levels at both the Pajaro River and Corralitos and Salsipuedes creeks and is urging residents to be aware of the weather and be connected to ongoing developments by checking the news media and the city’salert response network.

High risk neighborhoods include Pajaro Village, Bay Village, Lake Village, and residential areas near Salispuedes Creek, and along Riverside Drive near the Pajaro River.

Across the county, officials say 35,000 people were placed under evacuation orders or warnings during this week’s storms and at least 50 homes in the Rio Del Mar area sustained structural or flooding damage.

About 180 local residents used emergency shelters set up around the county.

Deputy County Administrative Officer Melodye Serino said it was impossible for officials to estimate how many people were forced out of their homes, or remain displaced by the storms, since many evacuees may have chosen to stay with friends or family.

Emergency crews inspect damaged on Beach Drive in Aptos, cause by high tides and huge swells on Thursday morning.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

In Rio Del Mar, officials are still assessing the extent of the destruction. Because many homes in the area are vacation rentals and second homes, rather than owner-occupied residences, it will take some time to determine the extent of the damage, Serino said.

“While the dramatic footage of the damage at the shoreline has been the major story in the news, it is important to remember that many vulnerable populations were impacted by the storms and it may be many days before we understand the full impacts to our community,” said Serino.

According to the county, about 9,000 people remain without power, mostly concentrated within the Boulder Creek, San Lorenzo Valley and Davenport areas. That number is down from 22,000 last night. Residents in those areas are being told their power will not be restored until 10pm tomorrow, Jan. 7.

Debris litters paths between cottages at the iconic Capitola Venetian Hotel.
Debris litters paths between cottages at the iconic Capitola Venetian Hotel.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Road closures

As of Saturday, 38 county roads have closures. The county’s public works team has been vigilant in clearing roads blocked by downed trees and power lines, Gaffney says, and the roads that are closed now are mostly shut down due to more serious issues, such as landslides and sinkholes. The section of Hwy 9 that runs through Paradise Park is closed with no timetable for return, according to CalTrans. Hwy 9 near Hwy 236 is open only to one-way traffic, and the California Highway Patrol is responding to incidents on Hwy 9 near Boulder Creek, as well as Redwood Grove.

Large swaths of West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz remain closed after the cliffside were pummeled by high tides and strong swells. A city spokesperson tells Lookout that, combined with the erosion issues that the popular scenic route had experienced earlier in the year, the city is looking at “millions of dollars” in repairs.

The Santa Cruz Wharf reopened Friday morning, a day after it was closed because of dangerous waves.

City officials said several piles were broken during storms this week that caused high surf. Wharf staff inspected the damage and determined that the structural integrity of the Wharf hasn’t been compromised. Workers are repairing the damage and that work could extend into next week, but the wharf will remain open, the city said. A high surf advisory remains in effect today through 6 p.m.

Some shelters remain open; many closed

Several of the shelters and temporary evacuation points set up ahead of the storm have closed down.

Serino said the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium provided overnight shelter to between 80 to 100 people, many of whom were experiencing homelessness prior to the storm. The auditorium remains open as an evacuation shelter.

Extensive damage to the Seacliff Pier and the WWII iconic "Cement Ship" off the Aptos coast.
The combination of high tides and huge swells did extensive damage to the Seacliff Pier at Seacliff State Beach and the WWI iconic “Cement Ship” (made out of concrete) that lay off the Aptos coast.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

In Watsonville, between 60 to 70 people stayed at Cesar Chavez Middle School. Live Oak Elementary School housed six to 10 people, while the Jade Street Community Center – only open to Capitola residents – housed one or two people. The Jade Street center was still open as a shelter early Friday afternoon.

As for temporary evacuation points, one group of 200 kids at a local YMCA camp were evacuated to the Scotts Valley Community Center while the Santa Cruz Bible Church is helping about 40 people who were evacuated from the Willowbrook Residential Care Facility in Ben Lomond.

Those residents were set to return to the facility on Friday, Serino said.She said county officials encourage the public to stay away from coastal areas, to keep sandbags handy and continue monitoring the storm’s developments.

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