A swollen Bates Creek took out a section of North Main Street, just south of Cherryvale Avenue and north of Soquel Drive, leaving residents Friday stranded as Santa Cruz County officials scrambled to bridge the storm-driven waterway.
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After the storms caused Bates Creek to wash out a portion of North Main Street in the hills above Soquel Village – cutting off the only road access in and out of the neighborhood – several neighbors rushed to make sure there was a way for residents to make it out for emergencies.
Early Friday morning Brian Heim and his neighbor Mina Feuerhaken started telling nearby residents that they could walk through their backyards to cross a bridge to get out of the neighborhood by foot – opening up the only way out of the area for hundreds of residents trapped by the road washout. Dozens of neighbors took Heim and Feuerhaken up on their offer.
“There was a guy who had to catch a flight, somebody who had a surgery scheduled,” said Heim. “And just normal people that have to get to work and carry on with their lives.”
They hope county officials will have established a temporary fix on North Main Street soon before repairing the road permanently. But in the meantime, Heim spent part of Friday greeting the strangers who walked through his driveway, thanking him.
“It’s almost like an open house or something,” he said. “It’s a funny way to get to know your neighbors.”
District 1 Santa Cruz County Supervisor Manu Koenig said the county had brought in an emergency contractor to help deal with the washout in the hopes of finding a temporary repair, but he warned that it could take at least another day to reopen access.
“Current best-case scenario: We reroute the water and get some gravel down to allow pedestrians to cross in the next 24 hours,” Koenig wrote on Instagram. “Residents above the washout on Cherryvale, Prescott and Glen Haven will not be able to cross for at least 24 hours.”
Valente Hernandez, a general laborer working on the culvert collapse, said the waters of the swollen creek flowed under the road, causing the roadbed to cave in and leaving a hole he estimated was at least 16 feet deep and 30 feet wide.
He said crews were busy adding rock to stabilize the area. “We’re going to try to get this done as soon as possible because some people over there are without any water,” he said.
Residents in the neighborhood also reported losing power and gas. Some people had to cancel plans, missed a day of school or couldn’t get to work.
Dozens of residents walked and biked down to the creek to watch workers dump and organize boulders into the creek. Residents talked to each other about their surprise at the damaged road and shared updates about the bridge access using Heim and Feuerhaken’s backyards.
North Main Street in Soquel was far from the only road closure in Santa Cruz County as of early Friday as yet another atmospheric river swept through the region overnight.
Highways 129 and 152 were closed east of Watsonville by flooding and/or mudslides, cutting off access to U.S. 101. East Zayante Road was closed north of Mount Hermon Road due to a downed tree, the California Highway Patrol reported, and a half-mile stretch of Highway 9 south of Ben Lomond remains closed after a New Year’s Eve slide. Lompico Road in Felton was closed after a power pole fell across the road, the county reported via Twitter at 7:41 a.m.
Diana Maldonado, who lives across North Main Street from Feuerhaken’s house, noticed at 2 a.m. that the road was giving way. She called to notify the fire department particularly because she was worried about people commuting early in the morning who might not be able to see the road and get swept away by the creek.
She bought her home 12 years ago and saw the creek flood over the road during this past New Year’s Eve storm as well. She hopes county officials will replace the culvert with a bridge.
“Put a bridge in. Forget the culvert. They’re too small, too narrow, they rust out – doesn’t work,” she said. “The log jams really mess it up.”
Thomas Sage Pedersen and his wife, Lauren Ringelman, have been living in the North Main Street neighborhood for about six years. They’re used to losing power and seeing road damage, but were shocked as they looked at the destroyed portion of the road.
“This winter has been really wild,” said Ringelman.
Ringelman, an artist, said someone had to fill in her shift working at a cafe in Santa Cruz. Pedersen, also an artist and entrepreneur, also had to cancel a meeting in San Francisco.
“I was pretty bummed,” said Pedersen. I was supposed to go to San Francisco, to meet up with a couple of podcast guests and to see this event I’ve been looking forward to for a while.”
Jordy Pastor and Helen Christianson also never expected that North Main Street would wash out.
Christianson said her first reaction was trying to find a way out. Her company canceled work Friday due to the rain, and Pastor, who works in construction, has had to delay projects because of this winter’s abnormal rainfall.
“I guess we’re in a bit of a unique spot because there’s one way in and one way out,” said Pastor. “It kinda makes you think about if there was a fire.”
They moved into the neighborhood about a year and a half ago, but Pastor was born and raised in Soquel. He hasn’t seen this amount of rainfall since he was a kid, and said this was the first time in about 20 years that he’s owned an umbrella.
In the meantime, he and Christianson started a 1,000-piece Alice In Wonderland-themed puzzle.
“We’re chilling,” said Pastor. “We got power and we have a backup generator. We’re not in a bad situation.”
They know other people might not have it as good as them. Christianson and Pastor get their water from a well, unlike many nearby who lost water access.
When they went to see the washed-out road themselves, they learned about Heim and Feuerhaken’s bridge. They used it to get food in Soquel Village.
They walked through Feuerhaken’s long driveway, across a vegetable garden, through a small gate and into Heim’s backyard. From Heim’s backyard, they turned left down their winding driveway and passed their home to a bridge between 10 ft to 15 ft wide over Bates Creek. After crossing the bridge, they reached the other side of North Main Street, which is covered in a thick layer of slippery mud.
Feuerhaken said there’s been a lot of adrenaline with the damage and the crews working all day.
“But it looks like it’s really, really severe damage. I don’t see it being fixed anytime soon,” she said. “We can handle maybe two or three days of people going through our property all the time but going beyond that is going to be hard, and just moving on with normal life – getting back to our routines, getting to school.”
One of her daughters goes to Main Street Elementary located several blocks south of the washed out portion of the road. It’s one of the many schools across the county to announce closures due to the storm, so her daughter stayed home. Feuerhaken canceled a whole day of plans she had scheduled Saturday for her birthday.
She’s also thinking about simple tasks that could become much more difficult without the road. How will they get their mail? How will trash be picked up? How will they get groceries?
Several Soquel businesses were affected as well. Soquel Nursery Growers on North Main Street was cut off from the rest of Soquel due to the collapse. Manager Curtis Ferris had to walk to the site through neighbors’ properties, maneuvering around the collapse.
The business was closed Friday since the washout made it impossible for vehicles to access the nursery. “It’s not the biggest deal, because I doubt many people were going to be plant shopping today,” said Ferris. Unfortunately, Ferris left his car at the nursery Thursday, which likely means it will stay there for a while.
Ferris has been with the business for 15 years, and while he has seen water inundate the area before, he said he’s never seen a full washout like this one. But even in the midst of unprecedented damage, Ferris said he is grateful for the locals in the area: “It’s a really tight-knit community that seems to be rallying to help each other out.”
The business is always closed on weekends, but Ferris hopes to be able to reopen Monday. However, that will hinge on whether crews can find a temporary fix to restore access to the area.
“I know they’re trying to have a fix in 24 hours,” he said, but he’s worried about whether crews can meet that timeline. “I think that’s going to be really tough with all that water still flowing through.”
Max Chun and Kevin Painchaud also contributed to this report.