Flooding could turn Monterey Peninsula into an island, stranding residents for days, officials warn

Flooding could turn Monterey Peninsula into an island, stranding residents for days, officials warn

All eyes will be on Monterey County on Thursday and Friday as officials warn that a new storm could cut off the Monterey Peninsula due to flooding.

The Salinas River was expected to rise past flood stage at the town of Spreckels on Thursday afternoon and peak Friday evening, said Jeremy Arrich, manager of the Division of Flood Management with the California Department of Water Resources.

The peak flood level could be one of the highest on record.

Many areas along the Salinas River in Monterey County were under evacuation orders or warnings. Flooding could sever access between the Monterey Peninsula and points north, including Salinas, the county’s most populous city, Santa Cruz County and the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Residents both on the peninsula and in the Salinas area should expect to be cut off for two to three days,” Monterey County officials said in a statement. Sheriff Tina Nieto urged residents and businesses to prepare “for what could be the ‘Monterey Peninsula Island,’ as we call it,” she said at a news conference.

“Monterey Peninsula may become an island again like it did in the ’95 floods.”

She noted that during that epic rain storm, “the Monterey Peninsula became an island and people were stuck on either one side or the other.”

The concerns came as a cleanup and damage assessment continued after a series of deadly storms across the state.

The death toll from the sudden and powerful storms rose Wednesday after Sonoma County sheriff’s officials announced a person had been found dead in a car submerged in 8 to 10 feet of water. The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office also confirmed Wednesday that a 33-year-old man was found dead in the American River on Jan. 3, bringing the total of confirmed storm-related fatalities to 19.

A 5-year-old boy who was swept away by floodwaters in San Luis Obispo County on Monday was still missing Wednesday night as more than 100 members of the California National Guard joined the search effort.

Widespread flooding also forced the evacuation of Planada, a community of about 4,000 people just east of Merced. Though water levels have started to recede, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday morning that it was “unsafe to go back into flooded areas” and the evacuation order was still in place.

County Supervisor Rodrigo Espinosa said more than half the town, which is home to many farmworkers, was flooded. Officials were hoping to marshal government and nonprofit resources to get aid to people, he added, and were also working furiously to shore up the sewage plant in Planada so it didn’t send raw sewage into the already decimated community.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “We’re just trying to get help to residents.”

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend characterized recent storms as “a once-in-a-generational challenging event” that had affected the whole county. Towns such as Capitola, Santa Cruz and Soquel were all hard hit.

“We know this is going to be a long rebuild. We know we’re going to need a lot of resources,” he said during a news conference Tuesday. “But what we also need is a sense of resilience from all of us to be able to rebuild this area — because we’ve seen the tears, we’ve seen the anger, but we’re moving into a resilience phase where we’re just trying to rebuild, bring that hope back.”