Three floods in two weeks: in California, the fed up of a village in the face of storms

Armed with a long squeegee, Camilla Shaffer cleans the torrent of mud that lines her garden in the forest village of Felton. Not without weariness: it is already the third time in two weeks that his house has been flooded, due to the series of storms currently battering California.

“I’m so angry, it just makes me want to cry,” the 59-year-old Briton told AFP, tired in her muddy boots.

Just days after clearing her porch, she already has to start all over again. And while the majority of his upstairs belongings are protected, the furniture in his art studio downstairs is good for the dumpster.

In Felton, a small town of 4,500 souls, nestled in the middle of mountains populated by redwoods on the coast south of San Francisco, the inhabitants thought they were used to the mood swings of the San Lorenzo River.

The torrent has overflowed its bed several times over the past decade.

But this time, their nerves are put to the test: in local memory, the village had never experienced such frequency, nor such intensity.

Since Christmas, eight storms in a row have swept through California, fed by “atmospheric rivers”, real rivers of the sky, capable of transporting enormous quantities of water from the tropics.

As a result, several areas of Felton woke up with their feet in the water on New Year’s Day. Before suffering a second flood on Monday, and yet another on Saturday.

“Three times in two weeks, it’s crazy,” says Kevin Smith.

A native of the area, this big guy of 35 years recently bought his parents’ wooden house, very close to the river.

A resident inspects the damage to his home caused by another flood of the San Lorenzo River on January 9, 2023 in Felton, California (AFP – JOSH EDELSON)

In his garage, the mark left by the water at the beginning of the week is close to his head.

“Monday was the worst flood in 40 years,” breathes this car restorer. A report confirmed by the neighborhood and the local media.

– “New normal” –

If it is difficult to establish a direct link between these storms in series — which have killed at least 19 people in California — and climate change, scientists regularly explain that warming increases the frequency and intensity of the phenomena. extreme weather.

And in Felton, where sofas, rugs, trash cans and chests of drawers still sit erratically in some sodden streets, we fear that this dark series will foreshadow a dark future.

“I hope this isn’t the new normal,” sighs Melissa Foley, pushing a wheelbarrow full of cleaning kits donated by the Red Cross, which she distributes to her neighbours.

Like many riverside residents, the 44-year-old ecologist lives in a two-storey house, “able to withstand a flood like it happens every 100 years” and had raised most of her belongings before the floods.

“We knew what we were signing up for when buying here,” explains this trail-running enthusiast, too much in love with her life in the forest to think of leaving.

But for the less well-off, the floods of the last few days are truly catastrophic. Caught between the river and another creek that sprouted out of its bed, Amberlee Galvin and her mother saw the water rise to the ceiling of their ground floor “in the space of 10 minutes” on Monday, and even go upstairs, lower than elsewhere.

“We were rescued by a neighbor in a canoe,” says the 23-year-old cook.

Dryer, bathroom, his brother’s bedroom: the lower level is completely devastated and still filled with toxic water, because the river carried gasoline, the contents of the sewers and other chemicals. An interior wall was also seriously damaged.

Enough to push the local authorities to declare the building at least temporarily uninhabitable, pending further examination.

“The insurance does not want to cover us,” the young woman blanched. “If we can’t live here anymore, we might have to move somewhere really cheaper, like Texas.”

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