Monterey County flooding forces evacuations as farmers face serious impacts

ByZach Fuentes and Lauren Martinez KGO logo
Tuesday, March 14, 2023
Monterey Co. flooding forces nearly 2,000 to evacuate
A levee break in the small Monterey County community of Pajaro has forced the evacuation of nearly 2,000 residents, virtually the entire town.

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- A levee break in the Monterey County community of Pajaro has forced the evacuation of nearly 2,000.

Some of them may not be able to return home for weeks. People like Andres Garcia and his family were left with nowhere to go but county evacuation centers.

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"We got evacuated around 1, 1:30 in the morning," Garcia said, "So we had like, a few minutes, like maybe 30 minutes. So we grabbed just the necessary things, blankets, little bit clothes and just left and came here."

Garcia is one of around 1,700 people displaced from their homes, virtually the entire town. Some residents tell us they have neighbors in homes that weren't flooded that chose to stay in the evacuated zones.

"My neighbor's there," said evacuee Carmen Cisneros, "He's like 80 something years old, has no water, trying to get water to him. They won't even let us take them water."

The Monterey County Sheriff's Office says that with current conditions, they can't let people back home yet.

County officials say that this most recent atmospheric river has brought even more impacts throughout Monterey County than the one in Jan.

"This was a tremendous amount of rain, a direct hit, this atmospheric river that was full, full, full of moisture," Nicholas Pasculli, the county spokesperson said, "Monterey County was in its path, and it was in its direct path."

David Mancera of Kitchen Table Advisors says the last time farmers experienced an event of this magnitude was in 1995.

Luis Alejo is the Chair of the Monterey County Board of Supervisor.

"Most are low-income Latino farmworkers, many immigrants," Alejo said, "This is the worst thing that could have happened to them at this time. These are residents who have the least. So this, being evacuated and the damage to their homes and their vehicles and their businesses is going to be severe, and the pain is going to be prolonged for many weeks and months."

Alejo is calling on Governor Gavin Newsom and President Joe Biden to bring in more federal resources to Monterey County.

He says what happens to this community, made up of mostly farmworkers and agricultural land, will have large-scale impacts.

"This should have been the beginning of the harvest season. Now this is going to have an impact on our food supply," Alejo said, "Beyond that, the impact to jobs is going to be enormous. It's going to be severe because these farm workers are not going to be out of work for a very long period of time."

A period of time many of those workers say is agonizing.

VIDEO: Pajaro River breach leaves town in Monterey Co. underwater, residents asked not to drink water

One of the biggest weather-related disasters is in Monterey County in the community of Pajaro where flooding is leaving the town underwater.

"We're probably gonna return maybe like in three weeks," Garcia said, "We don't know yet, it depends on the weather."

David Mancera works for Kitchen Table Advisors, a company that works to support small farms and ranchers. Mancera said they help with business advising around access to land and capital.

Mancera also teaches a farming class at Hartnell College in Salinas. He says the last time farmers experienced an event of this magnitude was in 1995.

"They're desperately looking for help," Mancera said.

He said for some of the farmers that have plants in the ground now lost their crop for the second time this year.

Depending on the size and crop, the weather impacts have delayed a spring production to summer.

VIDEO: Aerial views of Salinas River flooding in Monterey County as levee breaks from overflowing water

Sky 7 video shows a levee break as the Salinas River in Monterey County overflows its banks, flooding farmland in the area.

"If they do a transplant they can probably expect their first crop at the end of May early June," Mancera said.

For a 10 to 15-acre farm, Mancera said each acre could gross $20,000 to $30,000 per year, depending on the crop.

"I mean this loss is easily equating to anywhere between $50,000 to $100,000 in potential sales," Mancera said.

Once this storm passes and damage is assessed, there will be a big impact on the local agricultural industry.

"It's going to impact availability of crops so when you go to the grocery store you might not find what you normally find and or you're probably going to find your fruits and vegetables at a higher price than you're normally used to," Mancera said.

Officials from Monterey County set up five shelters and counting for residents displaced by the floods.

MORE: Meet the team ready to rescue residents from Monterey County floodwaters

Laura Garcia woke up to the sounds of water in her Pajaro home early Saturday morning. Her and her family are sheltering at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds.

Garcia said she feels sad and confused and doesn't know what they're going to do. For work, she boxes strawberries. That too is now a concern for her this year.

The group Kitchen Table Advisories set up a link to help local farmers severely impacted by the storms in the beginning of the year and now this round. A link to their support page can be found here.

Monterey County says the state has crews working around the clock to stabilize the levee breach, and they're hoping to have that done by the end of Monday. Once that happens, water is expected to recede.

To help the Pajaro community, visit the following links below.

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