Saturday, January 28, 2023     Volume: 23, Issue: 48

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 18th, 2023, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 23, Issue 47 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 23, Issue 47

U.S. Rep. Carbajal visits Guadalupe to assess storm damage

By Taylor O'Connor

After a Santa Maria River levee broke during early January’s severe storms, around 20 families evacuated and are now staying in temporary H-2A housing for farmworkers or sleeping in the Guadalupe Auditorium, Guadalupe Mayor Ariston Julian said. 

“This has happened about four times in the last 30 years. It can’t happen anymore,” Julian said about the levee. “There was mud about a foot deep in the street. It’s pretty clear today but we’re continuing to work.” 

U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara), center, visited Los Osos, Guadalupe, Orcutt (pictured), Santa Maria, and Morro Bay to assess the storm’s damage in various communities while pushing for the Biden administration to add the Central Coast to its major disaster declaration.

To figure out next steps, U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) toured Guadalupe, Santa Maria, and Orcutt with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives on Jan. 17 to assess the damage done in an effort to push the Biden administration to approve a major disaster declaration for the Central Coast.

“Seeing firsthand the damage that this month’s severe storms and flooding has brought to our region helps me bring stories of this disaster directly to our federal emergency managers to push for the additional help the Central Coast needs to recover and rebuild,” Carbajal said in a statement. “As I continue to urge the Biden-Harris administration to extend a ‘major disaster declaration’ to San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties, I’m grateful to the residents and business owners displaced by these damages who’ve spoken with me in Los Osos, Guadalupe, Orcutt, Santa Maria, Morro Bay, and elsewhere.”

A major disaster declaration would allow the federal government, led by FEMA, to receive claims from individual families and businesses, provide unemployment and legal assistance, and crisis counseling to Santa Barbara, SLO, and Ventura Counties, according to a statement from the congressman’s office. As of Jan. 15, declarations for Merced, Sacramento, and Santa Cruz counties were approved by the Biden administration. 

In Guadalupe, water breached the levee at 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 8, and flooded homes off of Pioneer Street. Families were evacuated to the auditorium where the Red Cross had a trailer and people began distributing cots, blankets, first aid kits, and other personal items, Julian said. On Jan. 9, a city-contracted inspector visited the homes to see whether they were safe to enter. 

“All of them were yellow-tagged, meaning people could go in but they couldn’t stay,” Julian said. “Smooth Transportation helped us take people out of the auditorium down to their homes to salvage what they could.”

Since Guadalupe doesn’t have a motel in town, with the nearest in Santa Maria, and many residents can’t afford to stay in one for a long period of time, the city reached an agreement with H-2A housing owners to lease 10 rooms for three weeks, he said. 

“We’re leasing these rooms for the residents because they have nowhere to go. One room has 10 people in them,” Julian said. “We talked about having emergency trailers placed along the street because people want to work on their houses.” 

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County made several donations of food and clothing; the Presbyterian Church of Nipomo donated clothes; Good Samaritan Shelter provided meals at the Guadalupe senior center; Waste Management brought out four, 44-yard containers to fill with mud and discarded items; and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino’s staff distributed 50 hygiene kits, he said. 

Supervisor Lavagnino said it wasn’t so much a breach of the levee, but an area where the levee ends. It hasn’t seen a rush of water like that in “decades,” causing it to flood down into the neighborhood. 

“This is my first time representing Guadalupe, and [I found] they have this built-in system for themselves where they’ve learned to take care of themselves without asking for help,” Lavagnino said. “We actually had to ask [Julian] to request help from the Office of Emergency Services to get the jurisdictional wheels moving.” 

Having the congressman in town will hopefully get things moving smoothly and begin to assess what needs to be done in order to help the city, Lavagnino said. 

“The main thing for me is the extension of the levee. There has to be better protection for Guadalupe in the future,” Lavagnino said. “Historically this has happened before, and I guess the response has been if $50 million is worth people flooded out of five or 10 homes for three weeks. We’ve got to take another look at that.” 

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