Google Maps directions led some drivers to flooded roads

Office of Emergency Services director reports on road closures and rescues following latest round of storms

In fewer than three days, Kevin O’Neill, director of the San Benito County Office of Emergency Services (OES), on Feb. 21 was reporting a second time to the county Board of Supervisors that Lovers Lane and San Felipe Road were inundated because of repeated storms. This time, however, there was a difference, in that there were numerous car rescues because people ignored signs and drove into deep water.

“Pacheco Creek rose drastically, but not to a level we haven’t seen before,” he said. “We ordered a voluntary evacuation for the areas of Lovers Lane and San Felipe yet again."

At the time, he said the entire length of Shore Road was closed, as well as Fairview Road from Highway 156, through Shore Road and Highway 25. Additionally, Frazier Lake Road was closed. All roads mentioned have since reopened to traffic.

“We closed San Felipe Road between Fairview and 156 is closed due to the bridge there were some questions about,” O'Neill said. “We were able to fly the drone yesterday and we noticed some cracks in the asphalt. I checked it out and the water was hitting the top of the bridge so there are some concerns about structural integrity. I conferred with RMA (the Resource Management Agency) and they agreed we should shut it down.”

O’Neill said the road will remain closed indefinitely and that as of Tuesday, the north end of Lovers Lane remained closed, along with San Juan Highway, Anzar Road, Prescott Road, and Rosa Morada. Hazardous driving conditions persisted on many roads, mainly due to downed trees and mudslides.

“There were at least seven rescues from vehicles (Monday) from people who ignored the road closed signs,” he said. “There was some kind of event on Highway 152 that was directing people on to 156. Google Maps did not do us any favors and kept directing people down Fairview and apparently road signs were a little confusing, so people kept getting stuck.”

He said CalFire crews and the Hollister Fire Department conducted the rescues. None were serious, there were no injuries, and the Swift Water Rescue units were not needed.

“At least seven cars are probably permanently damaged because the drivers did not heed the warning signs,” O'Neill said.

The Emergency Operations Center and command post at Dunneville were activated to coordinate search and rescue operations, drone flights and public works projects. He also touched on the presidential declaration and the gubernatorial disaster proclamations.

“When the president declares a major emergency in a county or state, there are two programs that can be made available,” O'Neill said. “The public assistance program offers assistance to local or state governments to help with costs of recovering from a disaster. The second is individual assistance to provide help for people affected by the disaster, such as those homeowners and renters on Lovers Lane. I want to make it clear, those individual assistance programs were not made available.”

It was rumored that FEMA was going to be involved and that there would be financial assistance for individuals, he noted.

“In some instances that is true across the country, but in this case it was not,” O'Neill said. “The rough threshold for those programs to be made available is somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 homes being destroyed down to the foundations. It didn’t come close to that here.”

He told the board that uninsured damage to structures were estimated at approximately $500,000, while damage to contents was around $400,000.

“It’s a rough estimate, but it’s probably low because we haven’t received figures from several residents,” O'Neill said. “We’re not even sure of the extent of damage from the latest storm.”

The majority of flooding from the Feb. 20 storm was on the south side of Pacheco Creek that came from the newest break in the levee, which is upstream from the first break.

Candice Hooper, county district attorney and a Lovers Lane resident, commented that the night before the meeting, Pacheco Creek crested at 17.73 feet and had already dropped to 11.06 feet.

“I wanted to reinforce that Kevin has done a great job,” she said. “He’s been very responsive and doing everything he can and really does have the residents who are affected in his heart.”

Hollister resident Marty Richman said it is obvious that emergency personnel were doing “a terrific job.”

“We have a limited amount of resources, but you do what you can,” he said. “As a member of the community, this is very heartening because, sooner or later, we’re going to be hit by the big one and it’s good to see that when the chips were down the Office of Emergency Services responded professionally.”

Richman told the board he hopes the workers are being taken care of.

“I know they’re being paid to do it, but when these things happen everybody goes the extra mile,” he said. “It’s good to know they are so well organized and dedicated in doing their jobs.”

Click below for an updated, interactive road hazard map, courtesy of the OES.



John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]