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Storms ravaged this California town. Here's what happened to those who refused to evacuate

Summer Lin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

PLANADA, Calif. — When Rudy Moreno first saw the texts from his relatives two weeks ago asking about the mandatory evacuation order in Planada, he didn’t even know that one had been issued. Much of the small town, made up of about 4,000 people east of Merced, had been flooded due to a breached levee during the storms that deluged the state at the start of the year.

But instead of joining the fleeing residents, the majority of whom had already left, Moreno headed straight to his childhood home on Amistad Street, where his older sister, Sylvia, still lived. They didn’t have flood insurance, and the rain was coming down hard.

Together, they worked on digging a trench from their backyard, which was already brimming with more than 2 feet of water, to their front yard to keep the house from flooding. They used an electric pump and managed to keep the water at bay.

“We have never had a flood like this one,” said the 60-year-old Moreno, who moved to the town with his parents in 1969 and has remained ever since. “Planada has had some rain but nothing to the extreme that we had to evacuate. It was something out of the movies.”

Right before the flood, the Morenos went into town to pick up some sandbags. When those ran out, they loaded up the truck with piles of the leftover sand and used plastic grocery bags to make their own.

By the time the worst was over, the rain had weakened the fence in their backyard and battered some couches and chairs. Sylvia Moreno, 67, decided to evacuate sometime during the storm, but her brother stayed behind, going days without power and heat. At one point, the water supply was contaminated with sewage and he could no longer use the tap, relying on only bottled water. If he hadn’t remained at the house, continuing to dig the trench deeper, he said the floodwaters would’ve seeped in through the back door and inundated the house.


“It’s a very sentimental thing for us because this is the home where all my brothers and sisters grew up,” Rudy Moreno said. “I was doing my best not to leave, and I was gonna do whatever it took to try to stay and make sure that it was gonna be OK.”

During the storms, which ravaged most of California, the rain breached at least one levee along Miles Creek in Planada, causing the floodwaters to flow into a drainage canal and flood nearby streets, businesses and homes.

Planada, a tiny, mostly rural unincorporated community in Merced County, is majority Latino and mostly made up of renters, according to Merced County Supervisor Rodrigo Espinosa, whose district includes the town. Most of the residents are immigrants without documentation, live below the poverty line and don’t have flood insurance, he added.

Many of the people are also farmworkers and weren’t able to work for weeks during the relentless onslaught of rain, Espinosa said. Some residents are behind on rent, facing eviction or living in moldy homes with nowhere else to go.


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