Timetable for Pajaro evacuees to return home is unclear as questions arise over levee maintenance

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Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Pajaro evacuees anxious to return home, question levee maintenance
Pajaro residents are still evacuated after a breached levee and are anxious about repairs they know will need to be done to their flood-damaged homes.

PAJARO, Calif. (KGO) -- It's been a brutal series of days for those who live in Pajaro.

"It's really hard because we all have kids," said Ruth Ruiz, "We can't get clothing for them. I'm still wearing the same clothes that I had from Saturday."

Monterey County officials say the Pajaro River levee breached at approximately midnight Friday, March 10.

RELATED: Monterey County flooding forces evacuations as farmers face serious impacts

The State Department of Water resources hired contractors to fill an estimated 400-foot gap in the levee to stabilize it. As of Tuesday night, the levee breach was closed.

In the meantime, more than 2,000 residents are still evacuated.

Many, evacuees told ABC7 that they're anxious about the repairs they already know will need to be done to their flood-damaged homes.

"We need to take the carpets and fix the room, the walls and everything," said evacuee Tony Hueso.

While the levee has been stabilized, evacuees are still wondering why more hasn't been done to strengthen it.

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.

This is something the county addressed in a Tuesday press briefing.

"It was determined long time ago that the current levees are not adequate," Shaunna Murray of the County's Water Resources Agency said at the briefing.

The county says that they have done as much maintenance as they can with the funding they've been provided and do expect more funding.

As for rebuilding the levee, Murray says that may not be done for eight to ten years.

But there is hope that the process can be accelerated.

"The conversation is pivoting as we speak amidst all this emergency response to how can we remove as many administrative barriers as we can to get this project started," said Mark Strudley, the Executive Director of the recently formed Pajaro Regional Flood Management Agency.

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

The plan is for the agency to eventually implement the new levee reconstruction project and take over maintenance and operations.

Strudley says he has calls set up with the White House and key government agencies about getting the project moving faster.

"I'm really hopeful that this is catching the attention of the agencies of the Army Corps, and that the tremendous amount of support that we've actually been getting from them recently is going to accelerate to the point where we actually can put this project in the ground sooner than we all thought and now we can complete it sooner than we all thought," Strudley said.

There is still no clear picture as to when Pajaro evacuees will be able to return home.

"I can tell you that right now, these areas that are were flooded and our remain flooded are still under an evacuation order," said Monterey County Spokesperson Nicholas Pasculli, "So therefore, it's not going to be a matter of days."

For more information on how to help those displaced, click here and here.