Reprinted from the Daily Press… Special thanks to Mike Lamb
BARSTOW — Nicole McCall was not home when she received a text from a neighbor.
“She said, look there is a river running down the street,” McCall recalls what the July 1 text read. “We were kind of joking, like we have river front property, will that make our values go up?”
Another neighbor, Dave Williams, said he was on his way to the gym when he received a call from his son.
“I think you need to come home,” his son said.
Both McCall and Williams rushed home, but neither one was prepared for what awaited them when they arrived at the residences located next to each other on Creosote Court.
“When I finally got home, it was like oh my gosh, what in the world just happened?” McCall said.
When she opened her front door, mud and water came gushing out. The two family dogs covered in mud followed.
A localized desert convection thunderstorm had just hit an area near their neighborhood. What happen next took only minutes to form a destructive force that would wreak havoc on everything in its path.
The destruction can be devastating to homeowners that don’t realize they reside in a flood zone. Mercury Insurance Agent Steve Stewart said many homeowners don’t discover they are in a flood zone until refinancing a mortgage or after suffering storm damage like what happened to a handful of homeowners July 1. Stewart said regular homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding damage, unless it comes from within the home or from above. If the water comes from the outside, homeowners are on their own, according to Stewart.
It’s been a devastating lesson to learn for McCall and Williams.
“It’s been a nightmare man, it’s been a nightmare,” Williams said Wednesday as he walked through his house. Large industrial fans blew loudly. After he opened up a side door to his home, he had to hop over a large muddy puddle.
He pulled open a gate to reveal a collapsed wooden retaining wall, sagging into the mud. But the real nightmare came into focus when he walked into his backyard. An inground pool was caked in mud. The mechanics for the pool inside a shed were destroyed.
“The backyard was beautiful,” Williams said when describing the scene just hours before the storm hit.
“It was set up, pool cleaned. We were getting ready to have our Fourth of July party on Sunday. So I got up early Friday to get it all set up,” he said.
Williams said the water came rushing into his property on a path that originated from the Guadalupe Channel that goes under Rimrock Road and runs next to Bill’s Liquor and behind McCall’s and Williams’ residences.
But the water collected so much debris and mud that it overflowed first into McCall’s backyard and into her house. It then traveled onto Williams’ property.
“I guess the storm drain on the other side of Yosemite — they (city official) said it got clogged up and so it flowed over Rimrock. It came down Bill’s Liquor’s parking lot, knocked down our fence and just flooded the whole backyard and flowed through the house,” McCall said.
Williams blames the city for the flooding, pointing to recent infrastructure improvements in the area “that failed.”
“This is their fault,” he said. “They better do something.”
City Consulting City Engineer Brad Merrell said on Wednesday that the improvements made on Rimrock were street related. He said there were no drainage improvements made. However, Merrell said the Guadalupe Channel is old and not designed to withstand a 100-year storm event.
“It was a freak storm that was well beyond a 100-year storm because it was so localized. It’s (Guadalupe channel) an old system and was overloaded,” Merrell said. He also said the recent Dean Kitchen Wash improvements did their jobs. Otherwise, he said, Wal-Mart would have been flooded.
“Our systems are designed for 100-year storms. If we were to design for 500-year storms, nobody could afford it.”
According to Flood Insurance Rate Flood Maps, both the McCall and Williams homes are in a flood zone. Merrell urges homeowners in flood zones to make sure there is proper drainage around the house so it (water) doesn’t come in your backdoor. He said making sure the house is elevated above the flow line also helps.
“You need to research if you are in a flood plain. If you are, you need to prepare for it,” Merrell said.
Stewart is the local agent but he was out of town for the holiday weekend, so Williams called the main Mercury Insurance office. The company paid for one-day motel stay for his family and sent an adjuster over to his house on Wednesday.
“My insurance company came out this morning. The adjuster was here for four hours. They were going to cover everything. Then he called me up and said we are covering nothing,” Williams said. “We are kind of angry with my insurance. I called him (the adjuster), like I was crying. I’m cancer survivor supporting four kids and I can’t afford …”
Stewart said if he would have known sooner, he would have informed Williams right away that homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding that comes from outside of the home.
“Flooding is an uninsurable risk. That’s why the government does flood insurance,” Stewart said. “They (insurance companies) will pay out more than the premium will pay. It’s unprofitable.”
Stewart said homeowners can get flood insurance provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that can be purchased through some insurance agents. But Stewart said many homeowners either choose not to buy the flood insurance or don’t know about that option.
“Why would Dave or anybody else up there think they would need flood insurance,” Stewart said. “It’s something you wouldn’t expect. It’s just terrible.”
McCall received the same news from her insurance company.
“We don’t even know where to start because our insurance is saying they are not going to cover it and the city is saying it wasn’t a big enough, widespread event to get (emergency) funding,” she said.
McCall and Williams did receive plenty of community support immediately after the damage was discovered. Neighbors and friends rushed in to help shovel out mud and remove carpeting.
McCall said City Public Services Administrator Mike Brown showed up next and the Police Department and Fire Department followed. The Red Cross was contacted and a team raced to the scene as well.
Barstow Fire Protection District Chief Jamie Williams said her department responded to five homes dealing with flooding issues on July 1. Besides the two homes on Cresote Court, Williams said paid firefighters and explorers responded to homes on Piute and Higgins streets.
McCall was grateful for the response.
“The Fire Department actually came. The fire chief came by and helped us with our carpets,” McCall said.
The Red Cross provided motel vouchers for the McCalls and two families living on Piute Street.
“We provided a place to stay, dry clothes and some food. Just enough money to get through a few days and get back on their feet,” said Georgia Duncan, public information officer with the Red Cross.
Luke Haefele with Titan Carpet care offered some industrial blowers and offered free testing for moisture levels in the walls of the homes.
“Every year it (flooding from summer storms) seems to happen, but it never seems to happen in the same place. Last year it was the (Barstow) Heights. The Heights got hit really hard.”
Haefele said he doesn’t hesitate to help victims of storm flooding.
“This is my community. I see people in need, I’ll jump in and do what I can. A lot of the community helped out. People were coming together all over helping their neighbors,” Haefele said.
“We actually had a whole bunch of people from the neighborhood come help us enter our house,” McCall said. “A lot of friends and family came by to help us clean. Without them I don’t think we would be able to save as much as we did.”
“I’m leaving it up to the Lord,” Dave Williams said. “There’s nothing I can do right now.”
Mike Lamb can be reached at 760-957-0613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @mlambdispatch.