Few people had evacuated homes next to the Tuolumne River as of Monday afternoon, but that could change as a massive surge of water heads down the channel.
The boost in the already high-flowing river will take about 23 hours to arrive in Modesto after the opening of the Don Pedro Reservoir spillway at 3 p.m. Monday. Emergency officials watched the gates open on a live video screen and calmly made plans for keeping people out of harm’s way.
“There are no mandatory evacuations now,” said Division Chief Alan Ernst of the Modesto Fire Department, incident commander for several agencies working the emergency at police headquarters. “It’s all dependent on the flows.”
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Officials are projecting a rise to about 62 feet in Modesto on Tuesday and Wednesday. This would flood homes and open land close to the river but spare most of the 1997 flood zone. Back then, the water hit 71 feet, soaking some of the homes on riverside bluffs.
The storm was expected to bring wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour through early Tuesday, but they had not developed as of late afternoon. It was feared that the wind damage could be even greater than this past weekend, when numerous trees toppled or lost large limbs, Ernst said.
Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputies have visited the areas at risk in recent days to advise residents about the possible need to evacuate. A shelter has opened at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in Turlock but has had few users so far.
Robert Bryan, director of the shelter at the fairground’s Turf Club, said it can accommodate 200 people, but the staff has said it could work out to fit more people if necessary. The shelter offers a place to sleep, shower, do laundry, and simply get out of the wet and cold. Anyone affected is welcome, whether they were displaced from a home or were homeless, he said.
Matthew Kernan, his mother, his brother and a cousin staying with them were flooded out of their Grayson Road home west of Modesto, right across from the old Honor Farm, he said. Last he saw it, Kernan said, there was about 2 1/2 feet of water in the house, which they rent. A berm about 6 feet long and 7 to 8 feet high broke, flooding the place within 5 minutes.
Matthew and his mother first went to the Red Cross shelter on Valentine’s Day, when it was located in Patterson, then followed it when it moved to Turlock. The brother and cousin have other accommodations.
Kernan said he has been looking on the bright side, focusing on the $1,800 in mostly new electronics they were able to salvage rather than what they weren’t. He ribbed his mother about a silver lining, too: He’d been bugging her to get rid of a whole bunch of stuff she’d been hanging onto but didn’t need, and now all that is a waterlogged mess so it is sure to go.
From what he’s heard, by mid-April, the water should have subsided enough that they can begin moving back into the house. The home is 80 percent brick, very little wood, so cleanup shouldn’t be too bad, he said.
In the meantime, the family is planning to talk with Rep. Jeff Denham about what kind of Federal Emergency Management Agency aid is available to provide housing.
“I hate being away from the property for so long. It sucks. I would give anything to be even able to sleep in a tent on the property.”
The San Joaquin River is projected to go slightly above flood stage Tuesday in Newman but stay within its banks just downstream in Patterson, the California Nevada River Forecast Center reported.
The San Joaquin was about a foot above flood stage in the less-populated Vernalis area Monday afternoon and could be about 2 feet above flood stage into Friday, according to the center.
John Holland: 209-578-2385