After the Flood: San Jose Residents Show Up, Clean-up, and Find Creative Ways to Help

It’s been two weeks since the Anderson Reservoir overflowed its banks in San Jose.  After a series of punishing storms in our rain-parched state, there was simply nowhere for the water to go. Reservoirs filled, then overflowed, flooding roads and then neighborhoods in the low-lying Rock Springs neighborhood. When the banks overflowed, the reservoir had reached 105.5% capacity. The water level was almost 4 feet (meters) above the top of the spillway.
We learned over the weekend that:

More than a decade ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considered a $7.4 million project that would have protected the Rock Springs neighborhood from last month’s devastating floods. But it concluded the project was too costly — and refused to fund it.  Source: San Jose Mercury News

Setting aside for a moment the human suffering caused by the flood, Santa Clara County says the cost of the damage is approaching $100 million, “some of which is the tab for repairing dozens of cars and more than 80 housing units with major damage in the Rock Springs neighborhood.” What heartbreak for people, many of them low-income, elderly or disabled, to be displaced from their homes. Lots of finger-pointing ensued: why weren’t they evacuated sooner? Why didn’t the city warn people living in the neighborhood of the risk? The answers seem lame: “we didn’t want to alarm them.” Instead, the waters rushed in, damaging homes, cars and meager possessions, with toxic waters overflowing the banks with contaminants gathered in the floods path.

The better story here is the outpouring of help from the residents of San Jose. Over 2,000 showed up for the first Saturday to help with major cleanup. My friend Jim Reber is hosting a fundraiser for his birthday, requesting donations towards the cleanup of Kelley Park. There’s a photo of the damage to the tea house on his fundraising page. My friend and artist Lexi Granger listed several pieces of art, discounted them, and donated 100% of the proceeds from her Etsy shop to flood victim relief.

Kieu Hoang, a billionaire businessman, donated $5 million to the fund set up by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The fund will distribute money to nonprofits providing emergency financial assistance and other support to those displaced by last month’s flooding.

This past weekend, Mike and I  volunteered for flood cleanup at nearby Kelley Park, home to a beautiful Japanese tea house and tea gardens in San Jose.  Flood waters reached that too, sending water, mud, silt and debris across the park, over the pond and into the tea house.  The work was physically exhausting and not all together comfortable, but we felt good to be doing our small part. We had to wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and closed-toe shoes, along with masks and goggles, provided by the city. Along with the flood debris, the receding waters deposited poison oak and poison ivy spores throughout the park and could lead to problems if we weren’t careful. After an orientation, we walked to “area ten” with a group of volunteers. Mike shoveled silt and mud from the walkways. I picked up trash (mostly plastic!) and pulled weeds along the pathways.

I volunteered for a few hours last week doing flood relief outreach at Sacred Heart Community Services.  Sacred Heart is one of four major charities tasked with serving flood victims. I placed phone calls to folks on a list of 350 registered flood victims, providing them details for seeking financial assistance. It was slow work, but with a number of volunteers we worked our way through the list. The worst of the flood damage happened in one of the poorer neighborhoods, and sadly many of the residence have nowhere to go. Two shelters remain open at a couple of community centers. Three homes are red-tagged meaning they are a complete loss,  where as yellow and green have some access, but no necessarily power or fresh water. In short, it’s a mess.

If you live in San Jose, here are ways to get involved:

The City of San Jose:  Help in Disaster: you can register as a volunteer and let them know when you’re available to help.

Sacred Heart Community Services: They’re providing outreach to flood victims, as well as distributing personal items (toothbrushes, shampoo and other toiletries), clothing, blankets and food. They have volunteer positions in the clothes closet, food pantry, sorting, phone banking, data entry and other opportunities. They will provide an orientation first. Thereafter you can sign up for shifts on their website.

Start a drive in your community, among friends, neighbors, or co-workers for blankets, bedding, food or hygiene items.

Details of Flood Recovery and available resources.

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Weathering the Extremes

Today’s flooding in San Jose made national news, so I’ve put together a brief post to let my friends know that my family is safe and dry. [drone footage, no audio below]

We’ve had a reversal of fortunes so to speak, replacing six years of drought with one of the wettest winters in recent memory. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for nearly fifty years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.

As our reservoirs reached capacity in early January, we let out a collective sigh. The drought could now be viewed from the rear-view mirror.

It kept raining. Then it rained some more. Powerful, drenching, atmospheric river styled storms, up and down the state. We had brief days of dry weather, followed by more intense storms.

Mountainous regions about twenty miles south had two or three times the rainfall. Nearly 50,000 commuters travel the mountainous corridor daily between Santa Cruz and San Jose. Trees and slopes, barely hanging on after so many years of drought were suddenly deluged with water. This  led to collapsed roads, devastating mudslides, falling trees and sinkholes. Flooded roads and lane closures have been a daily occurrence now for weeks.

To our north, friends in Oroville have been dealing with a failed spillway.  The Oroville Spillway serves America’s tallest dam. During a recent storm, a section the size of multiple football fields failed, sending water gushing off the sides and threatening homes along the Feather River below. At one point, over 180,000 people evacuated fearing the river would overflow, flooding homes and businesses along its path.  My friend Barbara lives just above the Feather River, and has written her personal account Vegan Above The Flood Plane on her blog AtFiftySomething.

Over the weekend, we’ve been closely monitoring the Anderson Reservoir, the largest in Silicon Valley. Due to seismic concerns, officials prefer to keep the reservoir at 68% of capacity. It reached 103% over the weekend, and continued to fill with today’s rains.

I don’t know why San Jose didn’t order a mandatory evacuation. All the signs were there. I checked notifications from my couch all day, as I’m home recovering from a stomach virus. Then the worst happened. The water overflowed the banks along the river, forcing emergency evacuations. Footage shows fire fighters in neck-high water bringing residences to safety.  The water is filthy, contaminated with everything in its path. Folks living in homeless encampments had to be rescued from trees. Heartbreaking.

I’ve never been so grateful for a warm, safe, dry home. As soon as I’m well, I’ll be off this couch, finding a way to pay it forward. Our community has already rallied. This rain-loving gardener has never been so happy to see a few days of sun in the forecast. I’ll share more as the news unfolds.