Flooding fears along California creek: ‘I’ve never seen the water like this’

Several utility workers watch from the banks as a brown, overflowing creek cuts a road in half.
A creek cuts through and washes away a section of road in Santa Cruz County on Friday.
(Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The rain was coming down steadily Friday as Jack Meadors, manager of Riverbend RV Park, stood outside and watched as the creek that cuts through the park filled with rainfall.

Since 7 a.m., Meadors said, he had watched the water levels creep up in the 5-foot-deep Wild Wood Creek. By 9 a.m., it was beginning to overflow. Residents who had opted not to evacuate changed their minds and began hauling their motor homes across the bridge before officials closed it off.

“It came up fast,” Meadors said as he stood outside the park’s office, which sits near the creek. “You got all this rain still coming. … Once it starts melting that snow, and if it rains more than that — which they’ve said it would — then we’re gonna get a lot more.”


Roughly 9,400 people were under evacuation orders statewide, with 15 evacuation shelters open across nine counties.

March 10, 2023

Most of the 60 or so residents of the park had evacuated or moved to the other side of the bridge Thursday in case they needed to leave quickly, said Meadors, who spent the day helping move trailers and motor homes. But Friday morning, some were still trying to decide whether to go.

“We tried to warn them the last few days,” Meadors said. “So we’ll just have to see.”

The first of two atmospheric river storms descended Friday on California, prompting widespread evacuation evacuation warnings and orders as it flooded creeks and rivers and dropped warm, heavy rain atop the state’s near-record snowpack.

As yet another series of storms were forecast to hit California, state and federal officials outlined their preparations for flood control Thursday.

March 9, 2023

Fresno County sheriff’s deputies also stood around the creek arm Friday morning as they monitored conditions at the Sanger RV park, often a flood risk. The park sits just east of the Kings River, which officials also were monitoring for flooding.

But it was the creek that was causing the most concern because once it crested over the bridge, deputies would close access — and those remaining on the other side would be trapped until rescuers arrived, Meadors said.

Shanna Daggett, a travel nurse, took the day off work to buy food for her dogs and be with them if the water breached her relocated spot.

Daggett was among those who heeded Meadors’ early warning. In January, when a storm caused the creek to overflow and creep up toward her RV, she had less than an hour to pack and move across the bridge.


This time, she said, Meadors notified residents Wednesday to start moving because the rain was expected to be heavier. She moved across the narrow bridge and parked her truck and RV next to the park’s basketball court.

One of her neighbors wasn’t so lucky and couldn’t move. White sandbags were packed around his mobile home in an effort to keep it safe from the rising creek bed, Daggett said.

Roughly 9,400 people were under evacuation orders statewide, with 15 evacuation shelters open across nine counties.

March 10, 2023

“I was a little scared ... last night. Today I’m breathing better because everything’s situated for me,” she said. “And in the worst worst-case scenario, if I have no time, I just throw my dogs in the truck and go. I’ll leave everything behind.”

Arnulfo, who declined to give his last name for privacy reasons, said in Spanish that he had decided to leave after hearing from the RV park’s management. But he was scared, he admitted, that all his belongings might get washed away. He nervously paced as the creek rose.

“Since I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen the water like this,” he said. “I’m not staying. What if it floods? It will be more difficult [to leave].

“I’m scared of losing all my things,” he said. “With the water, anything can happen.”

Officials have called only one death as “weather-related” in more than a dozen died in the wake of back-to-back snowstorms that stranded residents in their homes for weeks.

March 9, 2023

Debbie Weaver, 71, stood outside for a smoke break during a short pause in the rain. Weaver is from California but lives in Arizona, and she had spent the last week looking for houses in the Fresno area to move back.


She found the rain and flood warnings unusual for the area. She had already reparked her truck and motor home near the basketball court, near Daggett, but her daughter’s trailer sat across the bridge, unmoved but on higher ground.

“There’re moving people a lot, more than last time,” Weaver said.

“They think it’s going to come up to the basketball court,” Daggett said while taking one of her dogs for a walk during a respite in the rain.

“You can see how fast it’s peaking,” Weaver said.

“It wasn’t like that 30 minutes ago,” Daggett agreed.

If the creek continued to rise, Weaver said, she could hitch her trailer and drive off. But she was worried about her daughter.

“Hopefully it doesn’t crest up over there,” she said. “But I don’t know.”

By noon, Daggett and Weaver were among those who had made the decision to leave the park. Some people remained, Daggett said, but the water was already flooding picnic areas and was just a few inches from her trailer by the time she left. The dog park was flooded by a foot of water, she said.

Desiree Balladarez, 41, was sleeping on the bank of the Kings River when a fire department official woke her.

“I hadn’t been out of my tent yet because everything was just wet and I was just tired,” she said. “He pulled me out of my tent and said, ‘Come look at how high the water is here,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s really close to us right here.’ We could have been washed away.”


Balladarez, who is homeless, said the water was just feet away from her tent.

By Friday afternoon, she was among a few people staying at the Sanger Community Center, which had opened as a Red Cross shelter. Balladarez sat near her sleeping cat, Baby, who was in a kennel, while three dogs sat quietly in their cages.

She said she planned to ride out the rest of the storm at the shelter and return to her tent near Reedley Beach after it passed.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how green everything’s gonna be,” she said.