Bay Area storms: South Bay leaders monitor creeks as deluge causes street flooding, partially closes Highway 101


SAN JOSE — Emergency officials in Santa Clara County kept a weary eye on high-flowing creek beds Monday after the latest atmospheric river storm dropped another couple inches of rain over the waterlogged Bay Area.

While numerous towns to the west of the Santa Cruz Mountains reported widespread river flooding, mudslides and damage to buildings on Monday, some local leaders across the South Bay voiced cautious optimism at appearing to have escaped the worst from the latest atmospheric haymaker to come ashore. Despite some local flooding and road closures, for example, San Jose officials said the city has avoided any widespread damage from creeks topping their banks.

“San Jose is weathering the storm quite well,” said Mayor Matt Mahan at a Monday afternoon press conference.

The greatest impacts to the South Bay appeared concentrated in the south near Morgan Hill and Gilroy, where at least two houses flooded in murky brown waters deep enough to completely submerge several vehicles parked around those residences. Many officials in those communities also urged continued vigilance in light of forecasts that called for even more rain to call over the next week, including on Monday night.

Emergency crews closed the southbound lanes of Highway 101 near Gilroy early Monday afternoon, after flood waters from Uvas Creek seeped onto the freeway near 10th Street.

It came as flood waters from Uvas Creek spilled their banks, flooding houses on the 4000 block of Monterey Road, near Highway 101. The occupants of the houses had already left their residences by the time emergency crews arrived, according to Josh Shifrin, a Cal Fire battalion chief in Santa Clara County.

About 2,100 people in that area also were given evacuation warnings by Santa Clara County to leave their houses, due to rising waters.

In Gilroy, officials closely monitored the impact of spillover at Uvas Reservoir. Mayor Marie Blankley voiced concern Monday afternoon that additional rainfall could prompt evacuations for people and businesses located near the banks of Uvas Creek, including a nearby mobile home park.

In Morgan Hill, several roadways and intersections were closed due to a combination of streams topping their banks and storm drains failing accommodate the storm’s heavy rains, said Michelle Bigelow, a city spokeswoman. Officials also closely monitored water levels in Little Llagas Creek and Fisher Creek, which rose significantly during the pre-dawn deluge.

Still, Bigelow said the only buildings damaged in the storm appeared to be a series of four apartments along Bisceglia Avenue, which were evacuated due to flooding, she said.

Almaden Reservoir also has spilled its banks, according to the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

On the edge of downtown San Jose, the Guadalupe River crested with heavy rains, spilling into an overflow channel designed to prevent the area from the flooding. The waterway almost reached a minor flood stage of 9 feet at about 8 a.m. Monday, but it later receded to 7 feet by the afternoon.

“The whole system is working good right now,” said Steve Holmes, executive director of the South Bay Clean Creeks Coalition who stood on St John Street watching the flow at 9:30 am Monday.

Mahan, the city’s mayor, said his primary concerns remained the unhoused community — hundreds of whom live by the city’s streams and creeks. A State of Emergency that ordered evacuations away from the city’s waterways on Jan. 3 remained in effect Monday, he said.

“We’re not out of the woods yet with some of the additional rain coming in,” said assistant city manager Lee Wilcox. “We’ll have additional flooding on streets and rivers rising.”

Though San Jose hasn’t seen widespread flooding, the storms already have hit the city’s unhoused residents hard. Campsites closest to the water’s edge have flooded, while other people have had sleeping bags, tents, clothes and other belongings ruined by the rain and wind.

Mahan said a man was found dead near Penitencia Creek on New Year’s Day who may have died as a result of the previous night’s storm, though the county coroner has yet to determine the man’s cause of death. Another man was rescued by San Jose firefighters on Jan. 4 after he climbed a tree to escape the flood waters.

On Monday, activist Shaunn Cartwright walked Coyote Creek, seeking to convince people camping there to evacuate to an emergency shelter.

“There’s another storm that’s still coming. There’s rain until Sunday. So why not go? Why not be warm?” she asked one man, who said he’d think about it, but stopped short of promising he would pack up and leave.

Many people remain reluctant to evacuate, though Cartwright worries conditions will only worsen as it continues to rain this week. Some people are worried about leaving their possessions behind, while others are undocumented or have active warrants that make them hesitant to trust the authorities.

“These are the last belongings that they have. The last control that they have. And I understand them fighting for it,” Cartwright said. “But at some point reality is reality…The water’s pretty fast.”

Reporter Julia Prodis Sulek contributed to this report.

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