Scenes of devastation along the Pajaro River: ‘The water is still coming in. It’s rising’

Lizbeth Hernandez is rescued from Casserly Creek after floodwaters carried her truck off of Paulsen Road in Watsonville
Lizbeth Hernandez is rescued from Casserly Creek after floodwaters carried her truck off of Paulsen Road in Watsonville, Calif., on Friday.
(Shmuel Thaler / Associated Press)

Crowds of onlookers stood on the Watsonville side of the Pajaro River Bridge looking at the swollen muddy river rushing below and the closed-off, submerged town of Pajaro on the other side.

Emergency responders — sheriff’s deputies, police, county divers and boat rescue crews — were parked along the bridge behind yellow tape.

Police and county sheriff deputies stopped both the curious from crossing, as well as a few people who said they had family members or businesses on the other side.


One man, who declined to provide his name, said his grandmother was stuck on the other side in a flooded home. The police would not let him cross but took down her address and promised to check.

Flash flood warnings remain in effect for parts of Santa Cruz, Monterey, Tulare and Sonoma counties, according to the National Weather Service.

March 11, 2023

Connie and Victor Alvarez, owner of Alvarez Collison and Paint, said they were trying to get in to check on their business. They said they’d been notified by Monterey County that their business was probably flooded and there was concern that toxic chemicals and solvents could be getting into the water.

As the most recent storm moved out of the region Saturday, this Central Coast community was among the hardest hit. A levee failure on the Pajaro River in Monterey County triggered massive flooding and prompted hundreds of evacuations and dozens of water rescues.

A resident becomes emotional after seeing flood damage to belongings at her home on College Road in Watsonville, Calif.
A resident becomes emotional after seeing flood damage to her home on College Road in Watsonville on Friday.
(Nic Coury / Associated Press)

“So, we’re here to check,” said Connie Alvarez as she waited for a sheriff’s deputy to check to see if she had permission to cross.

Javier Gomez, legislative analyst for Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, pointed to rushing water pouring south and west along the flooded streets of Porter, San Juan and Brooklyn.


“The water is still coming in,” he said. “It’s rising.”

Three blocks upstream, on the other side of a flooded area, three people were walking east, along the river, carrying large black plastic bags. Gomez said those were probably some of the “hundreds” of people who didn’t heed the evacuation warnings.

Amid frustration and fear, residents in the San Bernardino Mountains have stepped in to help one another and provide services they say were lacking from the county.

March 10, 2023

“I don’t know how many stayed,” he said. “But we’ve been doing back-to-back rescues all day. Feels like there were at least 100.”

A woman walks through floodwaters in Watsonville on Friday.
(Nic Coury / Associated Press)

Monterey County Sheriff Deputy Mike Hampson said many of the same people had been evacuated in January when the river got high.

“At that time, they were displaced for about a week,” he said, noting that this time it’s probably going to be longer — as crews will have to clean flooded and contaminated streets and homes and restore electricity to the area.

He said many people who evacuated last night are also now trying to come back to get their pets and belongings. He can’t let them in. He said the Fire Department is taking down addresses and checking on animals.


“It’s hard,” he said. “You can hear dogs barking in some of the houses.”

At the Santa Cruz County fairgrounds, about 150 evacuees from Pajaro were talking, drawing, going through donated items — such as clothing and blankets — and getting ready for what they guessed would be a stay of at least a few weeks.

Andres Garcia, 39, said this was the third time he’d been evacuated from Pajaro by the flooding river. He was here in January, and also in 1995 — when the town was flooded, “even worse” than it is now, he said. He added that he’s unable to work right now — the mountain bike shop that employs him is also underwater.

He’ll probably have to claim unemployment, he said, shaking his head. He, his wife and their 8-year-old daughter left the inundated city early Saturday after they got a knock on the door from a sheriff’s deputy urging them to leave.

Garcia said they left before the water got too high, but he has no idea what state his house is in now. His neighbor, Laura Garcia, left after dawn.

She showed a video of water sloshing through her house — lapping against a crib, chairs, dining room set and shelves.

Andres Garcia said many people will be out of work as long as the water stays high — especially people who toil in the now submerged fields around the area.


“They can’t do anything while it’s like this,” he said.