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February 24, 2024

Heavy downpour, flooding cause havoc for South Monterey County

Recovery efforts continue in wake of last week’s disastrous storm

SALINAS VALLEY — Last week’s torrential downpour caused major flooding throughout South Monterey County that stalled traffic for hours on Highway 101 and devastated the small town of Chualar, which was left with a messy aftermath.

National Weather Service issued a significant weather advisory last Wednesday, Dec. 4, after tracking a strong thunderstorm near Chualar, about six miles north of Gonzales, around 2:30 p.m. The advisory warned that the storm could bring nickel-size hail and winds in excess of 40 mph in addition to heavy rainfall.

A flood warning soon followed at about 3:06 p.m. when an alleged levee broke near the Chualar Union School on Lincoln Street. Students and faculty members still in the area were forced to take shelter in the school’s gym.

“Everything that could happen to the town, happened,” said Patsy Gasca, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross of the Central Coast, which responded to provide supplies for those affected by the storm in Chualar, a town with a population of about 1,200 residents.

Gasca said Red Cross volunteers brought about 35 cots and 70 blankets to the school, where 25 students and 25 faculty members remained until the children’s parents could pick them up. Some of them had to stay overnight. 

Monterey County Regional Fire District firefighters also responded to the school to offer assistance.

“It was quite a nightmare last night, especially when resources couldn’t come in from either side,” Gasca said.

Just a half hour later, at about 3:41 p.m., a flood advisory was then issued for portions of Highway 101 and the cities of Soledad and Gonzales due to heavy rain from the thunderstorm.

Both directions of Highway 101 were closed for several hours near Chualar due to flooding, which also impacted nearby side roads that became congested with drivers trying to avoid the watery mess. Local law enforcement stepped in to help divert traffic to other routes until the highway reopened later that night.

Portions of Old Stage Road, Alisal Road and Esperanza Road also flooded. As of Monday, those roads are still closed in part due to flooding from the recent rains.

Two homes in Chualar suffered massive damage by the flood, displacing nine residents and two dogs. Red Cross volunteers met with the families and offered support, including shelter, food and clothing.

“It really does take a village to help a community recover, so we’ll continue to work with them along with our partners,” Gasca said. “It took everyone — CHP (California Highway Patrol), sheriffs, fire department — to assist the community.”

Nana’s BBQ Grill, an iconic barbecue restaurant in Chualar, was flooded as well after the storm.

“They had a lot of water, a lot of cleaning up to do yesterday,” Gasca said, “and, of course, the electricity went out after a transformer got hit with lightning.”

Chualar School was closed Thursday due to the power outage, as were all Gonzales schools due to the road closures. Classes resumed Friday.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s storm, work crews began to remove mud and debris from local roadways. Monterey County Supervisor Chris Lopez visited Chualar on Thursday to assess the damage and reported that cleanup efforts were underway.

“The results of the torrential downpour yesterday were devastating,” Lopez wrote in a Facebook post. “I have to thank our amazing local American Red Cross volunteers who showed up last night to care for our community through this crisis.”

According to Lopez, there were water marks about 20 inches high left on some buildings in the area. Sandbags were brought in to help fortify the impacted structures due to more rain forecasted over the weekend.

“Please give this community your support and space to work through this mess,” Lopez said.

Ryan Cronk
Ryan Cronk
Ryan Cronk is the managing editor for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for South Monterey County and the surrounding communities.