5,000 residents ordered to evacuate Santa Cruz Mountains due to debris flow risk

Officials at the emergency operations center expect only 25% of residents in the evacuation zone to comply with the order.

ByChris Nguyen and Kris Reyes KGO logo
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Bay Area storm: 5,000 ordered to evacuate Santa Cruz Mountains
Nearly 5,000 residents in the Santa Cruz Mountains have been ordered to immediately evacuate their homes to avoid potentially dangerous mudslides. However, county officials are concerned that most of them likely won't comply.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- Nearly 5,000 residents in the Santa Cruz Mountains have been ordered to immediately evacuate their homes to avoid potentially dangerous mudslides. However, county officials are concerned that most of them likely won't comply, which could further strain resources across the region.

According to CAL FIRE, the warning has been issued for the Last Chance Road area.

"It's a scary feeling for a lot of us. The uncertainty of everything is the worst," said Brookdale resident Michelle McKay, who dropped by a county evacuation center at San Lorenzo Valley High School Tuesday afternoon, after leaving her home.

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"I'm worried about getting blocked in, or power being out for days at a time, and being stranded in the mountains," McKay said. "That's my biggest concern."

With heavy rain expected throughout the night, Santa Cruz County officials are worried about the risk of debris flow and flooding from the CZU burn scar areas.

"The storm that we feared is here and the time to act is now," said Jason Hoppin, the county's communications manager.

VIDEO: Evacuations ordered in San Mateo, Santa Cruz counties ahead of storm

Evacuation warnings have been upgraded to orders in parts of San Mateo County ahead of today's storm.

Hoppin said officials at the emergency operations center expect only 25% of residents in the evacuation zone to actually comply with the order and offered some last-ditch advice for anyone who encounters debris flow.

"Grab your family and literally run up hill. That's the best thing that we can tell you to do, and if you can't do that, go upstairs, and if you don't have an upstairs, get on the roof. If you can't do that, get on top of a table," said Hoppin.

With officials warning residents of power outages, many stopped by the Scarborough ACE Hardware store in Scotts Valley to stock up on the essentials, but found bare shelves.

"Tarps, lanterns, flashlights, extension cords, all those kinds of things. We're running really low on everything," said store manager Tessa Yount. "Usually we slow down more in the winter, but it's been constant."

In a press conference at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Deputy Chief Chris Clark said as of 11a.m., 261 people told sheriff's deputies they were staying behind. He later said he believes that to be households, and not specifically 261 people, but he's trying to clarify.

Clark said that's likely higher if people decided at the last minute to stay.

"If we have mudslides or anything, I could get out," said Michael Parks pointing to his 4x4 truck. Add to that a generator and a house full of supplies, enough to last them for weeks. That's the reason why Boulder Creek residents Jennifer and Michael Parks, decided to stay behind.

VIDEO: Why some residents refuse to evacuate despite mudslide dangers in Santa Cruz Co.

Some residents are refusing to leave their homes despite warnings about potential mudslides. Some say they fear getting stuck on the road.

They had to sign a waiver, when the Sheriff's office knocked on their order to issue the mandatory evacuation.

"I'm not anxious that my house is going to get torn away. I believe what I'm most anxious about is that the road will get blocked," said Jennifer Parks.

That's one of the reasons many of their neighbors decided to leave, including Jeannie Schwald who's staying in her trailer in Moss Landing.

"The thought of getting caught on the road when something like that happens was terrifying," said Jeannie Schwald.

Santa Cruz county officials held a public ZOOM meeting to remind the public to leave their homes now, if they can, stressing the conditions can change quickly, that roads could get blocked.

STORM TIMELINE: Here's when heaviest rains, strongest winds are expected in Bay Area

This was the scene from Saratoga Summit, posted by CalFire at 8 pm. On the ground, in downtown Boulder Creek, a steady rainfall kep. t the streets mostly clear.

"Our response during the peak of this system could be significantly hampered," said a Santa Cruz County Sheriff officer

The Parks were forced from their homes by the CZU fires for more than a month. For them, the safest choice is to stay put, knowing their home is not near any dangerous hills.

"It's a wonderful place to live, we love it, there's just natural hazards that you have to prepare for,"said Michael Parks.

A Marin County task force has been deployed to Santa Cruz County - Their primary task is to respond in the event of a debris flow. They would search for people who may have been caught in it.


The usually quiet town of Boulder Creek was anything but that on Monday. Evacuation preparations were underway after CAL FIRE ordered an evacuation, effective immediately, for parts of Santa Cruz County due to an "upcoming atmospheric river and potential for debris flow."

Several zones of Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond and Felton are under orders to evacuate.

CAL FIRE has issued evacuation orders effective immediately for parts of Santa Cruz County, including Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek and Felton, ahead of the upcoming storm and atmospheric river. Here's how some residents are preparing.

Additional areas of the San Lorenzo Valley, the north coast of Santa Cruz County and Davenport are still under a warning to evacuate. See all evacuations here.

Residents are doing all that they can do to take proper safety steps ahead to the storm expected to bring anywhere from eight to twelve inches of rain over the course of the storm, according to the National Weather Service.

Santa Cruz County homeowner John Selden said," I'm going around cleaning all the gutters and downspouts and just making sure that everything is as good as it can be before the rain comes, obviously we are going to get a lot of wind as well. All we can do is prepare as much as I can."

According to ABC7 News meteorologist Drew Tuma, An atmospheric river will impact the Bay Area Tuesday through Thursday bringing heavy rain and gusty winds.

"This is the first real threat this winter for debris flows over our area burn scars from the 2020 wildfire season," Tuma says.

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"Residents here in Boulder Creek that I've spoken to all agree, evacuation orders like these are part of that mountain living lifestyle. But not all of them are on the same page on whether or not they'll leave their home."

Community Journalist Dustin Dorsey spoke to the homeowners who are all too familiar with evacuation orders, but not all of them are on the same page on whether they'll leave home or not. The CZU Lightning Complex Fire tore through the area just a few months ago.

Marc MacDonald has lived in Boulder Creek for many years. He says he hopes the floods won't impact his home and he will be here to clean up the mess if needed.

"We're hoping this will all blow over and not cause any erosion or substructure issues to come to light. We're prepared, it's not our first rodeo around here."

Down the road, Nancy Barrick says she's planning to leave.

"It's stressful, it's sad because you're like, 'is there going to be a home for me to come back to?' I think I've got everything that I don't want to ever lose. I packed it up and we're getting ready to go."

A Flash Flood Watch will begin Tuesday afternoon in the North Bay and Santa Cruz Mountain.

Santa Cruz County officials say temporary evacuation shelters will be established at the following locations:

  • San Lorenzo Valley High School at 7105 Hwy 9 in Felton
  • Pacific Elementary School at 50 Ocean Street in Davenport
  • Scotts Valley Community Center at 360 Kings Village Road in Scotts Valley