Calif. mayor admits failures in flood evacuation order
City officials did not believe the waters would spread to other neighborhoods and did not expand the evacuation orders
By Janie Har
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The mayor of San Jose acknowledged that the city failed to properly notify residents to evacuate during a flood emergency early Wednesday when some people said they got their first notice with a knock on their door from a firefighter.
City officials ordered more than 14,000 residents to leave their homes as water from swollen Coyote Creek flooded homes and temporarily shut down a portion of a major freeway.
"If the first time a resident is aware that they need to get out of their home is when they see a firefighter in a boat, that's a failure," Mayor Sam Liccardo said at a news conference. "We are assessing what happened in that failure."
Liccardo declined to go into detail, saying there would be time for reflection after the emergency was over.
"We've got to address the needs of the families who have been displaced first. We'll have a lot of time to analyze what went wrong," he said.
Another 22,000 people near the creek were encouraged but not required to evacuate.
The floodwaters were receding Wednesday but the mayor said it would be at least another day before residents would be allowed to return home.
Assistant City Manager Dave Sykes said officials first became aware of the rising water late Tuesday when firefighters began evacuating about 400 people from a low-lying residential area.
City officials did not believe the waters would spread to other neighborhoods and did not expand the evacuation orders.
Resident Sandy Moll said she had prepared for about a foot of water, but the flooding spilled over sandbags stacked 3 feet high and broke down her back door. Moll told the Mercury News in San Jose she was angry at the lack of warning.
"I'm seething," she said. "It's the lack of information and forewarning when they had to have known. They never even said you need to prepare for a major flood."
About 300 people stayed in emergency shelters set up by the city, while many found other accommodations.
Coyote Creek flooded after Anderson Dam in Santa Clara County reached capacity during heavy weekend rains.
"We've been pummeled by a number of storms since Jan. 9. We've been letting out as much water as we possibly could," said Rachel Gibson, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara Valley Water Project, which operates the dam.
Bob Benjamin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the water level in Coyote Creek reached a 100-year high during this week's storm.
Flood warnings were in place until Saturday because waterways were overtaxed. Another storm was forecast Sunday.
The rains have saturated the once-drought-stricken region and wreaked havoc for residents. At least four people have died in as a result of the storms throughout the state in the past week.