As volunteers handed out clothing and food on Feb. 11 in front of her parents’ home at 7500 Lovers Lane, Yareny Alfaro-Jones told of how flooding destroyed her parents’ dream home and killed their livestock. Only because she and her brother defied a sheriff’s blockade, putting themselves at risk, were they able to save their horses and dogs.
“They [deputies] told us the animals couldn’t be saved, and they couldn’t allow us to go down the road,” she said. “We obeyed the law for a while but then went through the neighbor’s back yards.”
Alfaro-Jones, who lives in Gilroy, said that on Jan. 9, she called her mother, Josephine Alfaro, at 7:30 a.m. to check on them and was planning on bringing her two daughters for her mother to babysit.
“Everything was calm. Everything was fine,” Alfaro-Jones said of her mother’s reply. “It wasn’t raining. I asked her if she saw any flooding. She says, ‘no, no flooding, just drinking coffee and feeding the dogs.’ I said, ‘Ok, I’ll see you later.’”
She called her mother again between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., preparing to take her daughters there.
“She’s screaming hysterically on the phone,” Alfaro-Jones said. “I thought my father died, that was how much she was petrified. She says, ‘there’s water rushing into the house.’ Because my husband works from home, I told him I had to leave the kids there and I was going to the ranch. The 101 was completely shut down. So, I had to take the back roads.”
She continued: “I drove through Frazier Lake, which was closed because it was completely flooded. I have a lifted truck, so I was able to go through and I had to park a few houses down from our home and I see a river just rushing through it.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, six inches of water can cause motorists to lose control of the car and two feet of water can carry most cars away.
When she and her brother told the deputies they had animals in the stalls at the 12-acre ranch and needed to let them out, they were told they could not go down the road.
“We were trying to obey the rules,” she said. “Finally, we said ‘we can’t do this anymore.’ So, we went around the neighbor’s property. We jumped the fence and got to our stalls.”
She found one of the dogs swimming against the current and saved it. She said the current swept her brother away, but he managed to regain his footing as he freed the horses from their stalls. In a video she took, the goats and sheep can be heard bleating in panic.
“Our baby goats were screaming for their lives,” she said emotionally. “They were drowning. We were able to save our horses and the dogs, but all of our livestock drowned.”
On Feb. 11 the water was gone except for puddles, and the pastures were still littered with carcasses.
Everything inside and outside the home was submerged by the river flowing through the property. She said two of the dogs saved her mother, who was still inside the home, by pulling and guiding her outside.
Her father, Armando Alfaro, who is a carpenter, had begun taking down the wet sheetrock and had set up fans to dry out the home after the first flood. And then the second, much more powerful flood, struck.
Between the on-again, off-again evacuation notices, there were, in fact, two distinct flood events during the first and third weeks of January, said Steve Loupe, director of the San Benito County Resource Management Agency.
Loupe said he believes this because it’s only a theory of what happened. He described the first flood as just “too much rain and the water table being maxed out,” and thinks water was not only coming from the overflowing Pacheco Creek but may have been rising up through the ground from the saturated water table.
The second flood, which occurred suddenly and swept through the area like a tsunami in under an hour, probably happened, he said, when the levee on the south side of Pacheco Creek breached in two places. One break is a gaping hole stretching 40 feet across.
He agreed with witnesses who said the rushing water came down Lovers Lane from both directions, then merged and continued west across flat fields to Frazier Lake Road, where it entered the Pajaro River.
Unfortunately, the Alfaro home, where the family had lived since January 2021, was ground zero for the onrushing water.
There are two distinct water lines on the white walls inside their garage which show the differing depths of the two floods. Most disturbing, though, are some of the dog’s muddy paw prints showing scratches high up on the door between the garage and the home, clearly indicating their desperation and panic.
The water from the second flood crested at about three feet inside the home, a couple inches above the first flood line. Inside and outside the home everything was damaged or destroyed and the receding water revealed garden boxes moved hundreds of feet and an overturned tractor, as well as debris.
Alfaro-Jones said there are unseen contaminants involved, ranging from animal feces to decades of pesticides, fertilizers and other possible sources. She said they are aware of the contamination but can’t think about it right now because they are focused on cleaning up first.
She pointed out that her parents’ home is not in the county’s designated floodplain, but the house just next door is. Obviously, the invisible line between the two did not protect her parents’ home, she said.
Now the house is uninhabitable and empty of furnishings and appliances. Their septic and water systems were also damaged. She said 25 fellow members of Gateway Church came out and filled seven truckloads with debris from the yards and all furniture and appliances to take to the landfill.
“The county gave us one free dump day, and it was just one truckload per household,” she said, adding only the first truck load was free and they had to pay for the remaining six.
Later, she said FEMA representatives came by the home but did not enter it because “they didn’t have the correct shoes. Yet, they had already assessed the damage and they said, ‘it was not enough [to qualify for a FEMA loan].’”
Loupe told BenitoLink the phrase “not enough” directly relates to how high the water rises inside a building. He said anything under 18 inches is considered minor damage; over 18 inches is major damage; but a building is not considered totally destroyed unless the water reaches the ceilings.
“We’re not spending one dime on this house, right now,” Alfaro-Jones said. “First of all, we’re not done with the rainy season.”
Loupe is also worried that another storm will bring even more misery because the two breaches cannot be repaired until the ground has dried enough to allow trucks into the area, which is located about 800 feet west of San Felipe Road.
Related BenitoLink stories:
Neighbors helping neighbors along Lovers Lane | BenitoLink
The Small Business Administration offers disaster recovery resources | BenitoLink
Flood victims share stories, ask San Benito County agencies for help | BenitoLink
San Benito County farmer struggles after flooding | BenitoLink
Local assistance available for residents suffering from flood effects | BenitoLink
State and federal agencies to assess storm damages | BenitoLink
Veterans and community step up to help Hollister evacuees | BenitoLink
Residents and pets rescued along Lovers Lane | BenitoLink