The rain stopped, but the havoc continued.
Power outages, toppled trees and the persistent threat of flooding went on for residents across Monterey County Wednesday, even as clouds parted for the first time in days.
By mid-morning, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. crews were out responding to 227 separate outages on the Central Coast, a majority of which were local.
“We have additional crews and resources in areas with the most weather-related damage on the Central Coast, especially Monterey County where the most severe damage is present,” a press release from PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 8,500 PG&E customers were without power in Monterey County, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us. This week’s round of outages started mounting Tuesday morning, as another atmospheric river brought powerful winds and fast-moving rain to the region.
Alongside Monterey County, widespread outages stretched into the Bay Area, where over 158,000 customers were without power Wednesday morning.
Inundated with repairs, PG&E warned that “some customers may be without power longer than other customers who work or live in areas where access issues are not present or where the damage is not as extensive.”
Prolonged power outages are a familiar foe for Monterey County residents, particularly on the Monterey Peninsula. Last week, storms cut power for more than 36,000 local PG&E customers, including a near blackout on the Peninsula. Outages lasted for days. In Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach, power losses stayed through the weekend. For some, there was only a short reprieve between outages before Tuesday’s system shut the lights off once again.
This time around, PG&E explained that harsh conditions forced crews to pause repair work for safety reasons Tuesday in both Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. Between hundreds of trees or limbs striking equipment and a maze of road closures, PG&E said restoration was a difficult feat.
Jessica Madueno, California Highway Patrol spokesperson, said, “Because of the high winds, we saw a lot of trees come down,” noting that “it’s not typical for this area to have that many fall.” Cleanup carried on Wednesday.
Tuesday evening, Caltrans announced a full overnight closure of Highway 1 between Carmel Road and Andrew Molera State Park “due to storm damage that has resulted in downed trees and power lines.” The closure came after CHP and Caltrans realized they could not tackle all of the trees that fell in this area in one night, Madueno said. At least, not alone. Cal Fire sent crews to support tree sweeps shortly after the overnight closure was announced. Highway 1 near Carmel was reopened at 8 p.m.
Further north, Highway 1 between Salinas Road and Highway 129 – which has been closed due to flooding from the Pájaro River since Sunday – was set to reopen in full by Thursday morning.
Caltrans announced Wednesday afternoon that southbound lanes where Highway 1 was closed across the Monterey/Santa Cruz county line were expected to reopen Wednesday night, while northbound lanes were estimated to reopen by Thursday morning.
The stretch of Highway 1 closed Sunday after an upstream breach along the Pájaro River sent floodwater over the highway. While water receded from the surface, the closure persisted into the week as water flow from the upstream levee breach eroded embankment material around bridge supports where Highway 1 crosses the Pájaro River, exposing foundation piles.
Caltrans said Tuesday that the Pájaro River Bridges were stable but that assessments would have to be made to determine their load capacity. In a county press conference Wednesday afternoon, Caltrans spokesperson Kevin Drabinski said that after assessing the bridges, structural engineers determined that they “can safely accommodate traffic without any restriction.”
Drabinski did note that “this is not the end” of Caltrans’ involvement with the Pájaro River Bridges. Construction crews will stay stationed at the bridges to fix and monitor erosion of support columns, Drabinksi said.
“The opening of Highway 1 is a small but an important part of this recovery,” he went on.
Forward progress was likewise announced this week on ongoing emergency repairs at the Pájaro River levee. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the 400-foot breach at River Mile 10 was filled, completing the first round of planned repairs.
The race to fix the 74-year-old levee has been ongoing since Sunday, after what started out as a 100-foot section breached Friday night into Saturday morning. The breach forced thousands in the nearby Pájaro community to flee their homes, while floodwaters spilled out onto surrounding agricultural fields. In the days that followed, all eyes turned to the small farmworker community, a testament to how devastating California’s winter storms this year have become.
Monterey County said a total of 24 contractors working on two 12-hour shifts worked to fill the levee breach. Work will continue over the next week or two to raise the emergency breach repair to the full levee height.
Evacuation orders remain in place for residents of the Pájaro community. With thousands displaced without an estimate of when they can return, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the state Wednesday requesting extra support, particularly for the county’s undocumented community members.
In their letter, the Board of Supervisors explained that Pájaro “is home to a significant population of our undocumented families.” The letter also pointed to other communities around the county with a similar makeup that have likewise been impacted by severe weather this year. To that end, the supervisors’ letter requested that the state provide “emergency resources for our undocumented community members who have been severely impacted and displaced” by flooding and storms.
Meanwhile, the threat of more flooding in coming days lingered for areas along the Salinas River. Wednesday marked the river’s third day in flood stage. As of forecasts Wednesday afternoon, the river was just below 24 feet near Spreckels (flood stage is 23 feet). The river was expected to rise through Friday, hitting moderate flood stage by noon.
In Wednesday’s press conference, county officials said they are continuing to keep a close watch on the river but are hoping actual water flows turn out to be less than forecasts.