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Thousands of Central Valley residents told to leave their homes ahead of another bout of rain


It only takes the sound of raindrops hitting the roof to seize Tulare County resident Tony Ferranti with thoughts of filling sandbags, restocking supplies and keeping a close eye on area bridges.

“It’s kind of PTSD flooding,” Ferranti said Sunday as he and thousands of others braced for the arrival of the latest in a series of major storms that have battered the Central Valley since January.

The new weather system, which began moving into the region on Sunday and spans the lower third of the state, is forecast to dump another 4 inches of rain by Wednesday on the soggy valley and its steep mountain slopes.

Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman said more than 11,000 people live in communities covered by mandatory evacuation orders and another 3,700 in areas with evacuation warnings.

As residents prepared to leave and others loaded sandbags to protect their homes, some of their misery seemed to be compounded by an escalating fight over which properties would be flooded and which would remain dry.

The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office ordered the evacuation of the lowland communities of Alpaugh and Allensworth Sunday in response to what the sheriff called a “gap in some waterways that caused flooding.” A local flood control official said someone bulldozed the levee and the flood control district had reported the damage to police.

Other evacuation orders were issued for parts of Exeter, Cutler, Teviston and Porterville and extended Sunday afternoon along the Tule River, where there were homeless encampments.

“We have a lot to do, but our priority has been life,” Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said during a community briefing Sunday afternoon. Boudreaux said 50 officers went door-to-door Sunday to tell about 1,000 Allensworth and Alpaugh residents to consider leaving their homes.

There was no immediate response from the sheriff’s office on whether the levee had been intentionally cut. A crew was working to repair the breach on Sunday.

The nearby community of Allensworth sits on land where rivers once fed Tulare Lake before it was drained for agriculture in the early 20th century. Recent storms have caused floodwaters to flow through channels and ditches, and flow across farmland toward the former lake bottom in Tulare County.

Allensworth residents have been battling the flooding for the past few days by building berms with gravel and sand to hold back rising water in ditches that flow past the city.

The Tulare Lake Basin is at the center of conflicts over where to direct rising water, sometimes pitting large agricultural operations against low-income communities and infrastructure like railroads.

Jack Mitchell, head of the Dear Creek Flood Control District, said he was struggling to reach large landowners to convince them to agree to flood their almond and pistachio orchards to save homes. If he could bring water to those historic canals, he said, “we could have roads in and out, and towns would be out of harm’s way and everything, if we just had a little help.”

Instead, Mitchell alleged, a large landowner blocked a channel with a large piece of equipment, preventing flood control work.

“And they even blocked the roads so we can’t access our flood fighting gear,” Mitchell said. He said he hasn’t been able to reach a company representative to complain.

“So they just want us to flood everything but them,” he said. “It is unfortunate”.

On Sunday, residents weary from the month-long battle against rising waters were preparing to be abandoned.

“We may not flood. But the roads will flood so we will be an island,” said Tekoah Kadara, a 41-year-old resident who had already arranged to send his 5-year-old son to stay with his mother. He and his father intended to stay behind to protect his home.

“We won’t be able to get out,” he said. “So, community members are already talking about buying little boats and canoes and things like that, so they can go in and out of the community.”

The latest storm system is among more than a dozen that have swollen California’s reservoirs, but also washed out roads and contributed to the deaths of at least 13 people. Drizzle Sunday was expected to turn into heavy rain and thunderstorms by Monday, covering the southern third of the state, National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Rowe said.

Back-to-back storms have also wreaked havoc in remote mountain communities in Tulare County, where torrents and rock slides have destroyed roads and bridges. Ferranti was among about 160 people stranded for a week after high waters covered bridges over the South Fork River and completely washed away one at Cinnamon Creek.

Unable to get updates from county officials beleaguered by breached levees and submerged roads, residents of the remote community fell into their own hands. They pulled supplies across the raging stream in a milk crate suspended from ropes. Ferranti arranged for critical medications for his elderly mother-in-law to be delivered by drone.

The reopened highway and some blue skies on Saturday only meant that Ferranti, working on four hours of sleep, needed a three-week supply for his family and farm, and had to fill 50 sandbags to shore up the front door and garage.

“Fire, you try to get away,” he said. “Flooding, you get stuck. If we have to evacuate, where do we go because the valley is in great danger?

Tulare County is struggling to assess damage from a succession of heavy rains and snowfalls. More than 100 people since the beginning of March have been rescued from high water. Some 674 structures, including homes, have been damaged in the besieged county, according to Sunday’s emergency management report from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The temporary shelters as of Sunday held 100 people, county officials said.

With up to a half-inch of additional rain Sunday, and up to 4 inches midweek, a flash flood watch has been issued for the Sierra foothills, as well as Fresno and Tulare counties, through Monday.

The two national parks in the area, Sequoia, with its legendary giant trees, and Kings Canyon, were closed and expected to stay well into spring. That has meant the closure of holiday homes in the mountainous region, an economic blow that extends to rural residents who work as cleaners and caretakers.

“Properties may not be damaged yet, but it has hurt people’s businesses,” said Junee Gambin, whose cabins at Mineral King are now closed for all of March, if not part of April, and her workers are concerned about the destination of your trailer. houses in the valley

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