'We need to stop the water': A California town's frantic fight to save itself

Ian James, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

ALLENSWORTH, Calif. — When it rained for days and floodwaters poured onto roads, the people of Allensworth grabbed shovels and revved up tractors.

The makeshift barriers they built with sandbags, gravel and loose sand kept the water back.

Now, the town of nearly 600 people northwest of Bakersfield faces another threat — a broken levee, along with yet another storm expected to hit in a few days.

On Saturday morning, the residents were back at work, shoveling sand onto a 3-foot high berm.

Allensworth, the state's first town to be founded by Black Americans, is now a predominantly Latino community. Some residents work on nearby farms, planting and harvesting almonds, pistachios, grapes and pomegranates.

Local leaders say they need help from county, state and local officials to protect their town.


"It is becoming a major crisis for our community," said Kayode Kadara, 69, who has been working with neighbors to defend against the floodwaters. "We have a lot of concerned people in this community. And we all rally to help each other."

The low-lying unincorporated community lies in the Tulare Lake watershed, which was drained for agriculture in the early 1900s. The latest storms have sent floodwater coursing through canals and ditches and flowing across farmland toward the old lake bottom.

On Saturday, a helicopter flew over the broken levee and was dropping loads of sand to plug it, while a crew was using machinery to help close the leak, said Jack Mitchell, head of the Deer Creek Flood Control District.

He said the levee was almost fully repaired but that flooding was still a huge concern.


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