Where we stand on Sunday: Biden declares major disaster in Santa Cruz County amid more storm evacuations, flooding

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, center, views damage to Seacliff State Beach with state and local officials.
Left to right: Second District Supervisor for Santa Cruz County Zach Friend, Chief Deputy director of Cal OES Lisa Ann L. Mangat, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Deanne Criswell and Deputy District Superintendent of Santa Cruz State Parks Jordan Burgess, view the heavy damage done to Rio Del Mar and Seacliff State Beach on Saturday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and members of her staff visited parts of Rio Del Mar and Capitola, and were set to survey areas of San Lorenzo Valley as part of a multiday tour to asses whether to issue a major disaster declaration for Santa Cruz County communities devastated by floods, landslides and power outages after several rounds of intense storms.

Update: President Joe Biden issued a major disaster declaration Saturday night for Santa Cruz County and other California communities grappling with damage from the storms. Read the White House statement here.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured storm damages across Santa Cruz County on Saturday. The visit comes days after the state and federal officials requested an expedited disaster declaration from the White House and as yet another atmospheric river pounded the region, flooding creeks, closing roads and forcing a new round of evacuations.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and members of her staff visited parts of Rio Del Mar and Capitola and were set to survey areas of San Lorenzo Valley as part of a multiday tour of California communities devastated by floods, landslides and power outages after several rounds of intense storms.

“The state is very honored that FEMA decided to come and see the damage in person,” Diana Crofts-Pelayo, assistant director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said in an interview. “We know that there are lots of states right now in the country that are experiencing a lot of different disasters. So the fact that she came here personally with her staff means a lot.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Criswell arrived in the state two days ago and spent part of Friday in Sacramento at the Cal OES command center and toured storm damages in Merced County. On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged the Biden Administration to declare a major disaster in California, which would allow the state and local governments to access federal money to pay for storm recovery.

Rep. Jimmy Panetta toured damaged parts of the county on Friday and said he believed the White House would issue an expedited disaster declaration, which would fast-track FEMA support.

FEMA’s Criswell is viewing the damage to Santa Cruz county this weekend as part of assessing those requests, Crofts-Pelayo said. “They’re kind of looking at the damages, which is part of the reason for that visit today,” she said. “We’re hopeful that we’ll get an answer soon.”

That visit came as the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office issued evacuation orders for several communities in the county.

Concerned about rapidly rising levels of the San Lorenzo River, sheriff’s deputies evacuated Felton Grove on Saturday morning. “If you live in the neighborhood, please leave now,” the county government wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning.

Soon after, the sheriff’s office issued evacuation orders for Paradise Park and parts of Soquel Village, including Soquel Wharf Road. By early afternoon, the evacuation orders had extended to neighborhoods near Watsonville, along with Rio Del Mar in Aptos, as large portions of the Esplanade flooded because of heavy rains and stormwater runoff.

Workers prepare to close Rio Del Mar Boulevard in Aptos on Saturday because of flooding.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Corralitos Creek near Freedom and the creek was flooding Saturday afternoon near the intersection of Holohan and East Lake Road.

The sheriff’s office said Saturday afternoon that the Salsipuedes Creek was beginning to flood. Highway 152 was closed near Watsonville between Bridge Street and Casserly Boulevard because of flooding.

Most of the evacuation orders were lifted by late Saturday afternoon, with the exception of neighborhoods near Highway 129 and Thompson Road near Watsonville because of concerns for possible flooding of the Pajaro River.

More rain was set to hit the Central Coast on Saturday afternoon and into the evening.

The NWS forecast more showers on the way for Sunday into Monday, bringing as much as 6 inches of rain in total over the long weekend before the area is finally expected to start drying out in the coming week.

A flood watch remained in effect for the county through Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. and the NWS warned that the San Lorenzo River could continue to see a rapid rise on Saturday. A high surf warning is set to expire at 10 a.m. Saturday, though the weather service warned of dangerous surf conditions for the rest of the day.

More than 3,000 PG&E customers remained without power across the county as of Saturday morning, the utility said. Most of those were in the San Lorenzo Valley, which was hit hard by the recent storms. Across the county, 53 roads continue to have emergency closures — nearly 25 of them in the San Lorenzo Valley. The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that crews from the county are working to place portable cell towers in Lompico and Zayante.

The Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County is looking ahead to the post-atmospheric river period and is looking for volunteers to help with cleanup projects, to begin Monday. Emergency shelters are currently fully staffed, and do not need volunteers. But cleanup from the storms will be needed in the coming days in a variety of tasks, from manual labor to staffing phones. For adults 18 and over only.

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Storm Central keeps you updated as we watch, wait and assess. Check back here as Lookout correspondents reach out across...

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