Saturday, February 19, 2011

It Never Rains in Southern California?

San Diego is hit hard by a series of intense storms.

As San Diego County dries out after a series of intense winter storms, residents and business owners begin the process of cleanup and repair. City officials estimate that the storms caused some $10 million in damages.

Just how much rain has fallen in San Diego? According to the National Weather Service, Lindbergh Field received over four inches of rain from Dec. 17 to Dec. 22. Mt. Palomar received a staggering 18.23 inches.

On Dec. 24, then-acting Governor of California Abel Maldonado declared a State of Emergency for San Diego County under the California Disaster Assistance Act. The declaration allows for state funds and resources to be used to help clean up and repair damage.

One of the hardest hit areas of the county was Mission Valley. According to data collected by NOAA, the San Diego River crested at over 13 feet on Dec. 22, which was the fourth highest on record. The swollen river caused major flooding at Qualcomm Stadium, where San Diego State and Navy were set to play in the annual Poinsettia Bowl Dec. 23.

Storm damage on the San Diego River

"The Qualcomm crew and the city's wastewater collections division worked literally through the night to pump 1.5 million gallons of water out of the stadium, "said San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders at a Jan. 5 news conference. "A national audience on ESPN was witness to this miraculous achievement."

At the Premier Inn, also near the San Diego River, floodwaters stranded nearly 50 guests Dec. 22. Members of the San Diego Lifeguards Swift Water Rescue Team used rubber boats to move the guests to safety. The motel was under nearly 3 feet of water.

The rains also caused damage to San Diego's railway system. Near the Sorrento Valley station, nearly one mile of track was rendered unsafe Dec. 23 as the soil beneath it washed away. According to the North County Transit District, passenger and freight service was suspended between Oceanside and San Diego while crews shored up the eroded sections with gravel. Passengers were shuttled between the two stations by bus. Damages to the NCTD tracks are estimated at $3 million.

On Dec. 21 a boulder, loosened from a cliff by the heavy downpour, smashed into the La Mesa VFW hall located on University Ave, and came to a rest on a pool table. Damage was so severe that a building inspector and engineer deemed the building unsafe. The group was told that they needed to be out by Jan. 27.

Several sinkholes were reported as a result of the flooding. One of the worst cases was discovered Dec. 29 in Normal Heights, which prompted the evacuation of an apartment building.

The city's infrastructure, much of it in disrepair following years of budget cuts, suffered greatly. The many existing potholes only worsened with the rain.

"We want the public to know that we are able to fix potholes," said San Diego city councilman Todd Gloria. "We just have to know where they're at."

Additionally, the massive flooding put a major strain on the city's storm drain system.

"We received over 2400 calls between the 20th of December and today [Jan. 4] on our hotline," said Deputy Director of San Diego's storm water department Kris McFadden. "That was rather significant."

A special meeting of the San Diego City Council was held Jan. 4 in order to ratify a declaration of a local emergency. Council members called various officials from departments in the city to report damages.

In order to make the minimum threshold to receive assistance from FEMA, the city will have had to sustain $3.7 million in damages. So far, estimates are close to $10 million.

"The city will only have to pay 6.25% if the federal and state governments offer assistance," said Donna Faller of the San Diego Office of Homeland Security.

Officials from the state and federal governments arrived in San Diego Jan. 5 to survey the storm damage.

City council members are urging business owners and residents who have sustained damage from the storms to report it as soon as possible in order for the assessment for the need of aid to be more accurate.