Jan 23, 2023
California Begins Recovery Efforts as Storm Damage Tops $1 Billion Transcript
California has started rebuilding after weeks of intense storms caused damage estimated to exceed $1 billion. Read the transcript here.
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Speaker 1 (00:00):
California is in rebuilding mode after weeks of storms battered the state. The storms are blamed for at least 20 deaths and damages estimated to exceed a billion dollars. President Biden declared a major disaster, which frees up federal resources to help in the recovery.
Now that the worst of the storms has passed, the cleanup has begun.
Marjorie Cruz (00:24):
That’s, you know, scary.
Speaker 1 (00:25):
Marjorie Cruz’s Berkeley home was destroyed by a mudslide.
Marjorie Cruz (00:29):
We just finished remodeling the house, so it’s hard to see it all go, and we’ll have to start again.
Speaker 1 (00:39):
For weeks, nine so-called atmospheric rivers, long narrow sections of the atmosphere that carry water vapor, pummeled the drought-stricken state. Torrential downpours turned neighborhoods into lakes, and triggered hundreds of mudslides, resulting in widespread power outages and mass evacuations. There were sinkholes in Los Angeles County, rock slides in Fresno, blizzards in the Sierra Nevada, and there were daring rescues. In Laguna Hills, first responders air lifted a woman from a rapidly rising creek. This week, President Biden surveyed damage along the Central Coast.
President Joe Biden (01:19):
If anybody doubts the climate is changing, then they must have been asleep for the last couple years. We know some of the destruction is going to take years to fully recover and rebuild, but we got to not just rebuild, we got to rebuild better.
Speaker 1 (01:34):
The community of Felton, southwest of San Jose, flooded three times in two weeks.
Caitlin Clancy (01:40):
It’s just a lot. And then to go through it the third time is just defeating.
Mehrdad Azim (01:45):
It’s always tough. You go through this emotional rollercoaster. “It’s going to be okay.” “It’s not okay.” But frankly, if my troubles in life is some mud on the floor and some lost gear, I consider myself blessed and lucky.
Speaker 1 (02:04):
There is one silver lining. The deluge replenished some of California’s depleted reservoirs. Stephanie Sy spoke with Brian Ferguson of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services about the recovery efforts.
Stephanie Sy (02:20):
Brian Ferguson, thank you so much for joining us. I know it’s been a long, tough couple of weeks for California. Just describe to us the scope of the damage you’re seeing and where things stand right now.
Brian Ferguson (02:32):
Yeah. Thank you so much for having us. This has really been a dynamic and challenging set of storms. 48 of our counties have proclaimed either a state of emergency or submitted damages to the state. The vast majority of our state has had impacts in some way, shape, or form. From San Diego in the south, where they were doing swift water rescues, to Humboldt, near the Oregon border, where we had mudslides, and everywhere in between. And so really an unprecedented and challenging disaster that is now averting a little bit, but we have a significant amount of cleanup and recovery that is really just now commencing. The Federal Major Disaster Declaration will expedite assistance to the communities for the financial pieces, but it will be months, if not years in some cases, for these communities to repair all the damage that occurred as a result of these storms.
Stephanie Sy (03:18):
Just as far as the immediate damage to infrastructure, talk a little bit about where roads and other thoroughfares that may have been blocked, for example, by downed trees or downed power lines, where cleanup is with that.
Brian Ferguson (03:32):
Yeah. We’re really lucky that we have some of the best road crews in the nation in terms of getting things back open, particularly our lifeline routes that are critical for people to either get to business, or work, or for shipping. Many of our coastal communities, it will be some time. There’s a significant sinkhole about 27 feet around near Half Moon Bay, Big Sur and Highway 1. There are large portions that have been washed out. And then the infrastructure, the communities, and the people that have been impacted are significant, and those businesses, we’re trying to maximize assistance so they can rebuild and recover, but certainly not all their losses may be covered. And so really the mission here is, how do we support communities? How do we support individuals, and help them get back, and recover, and rebuild quickly?
Stephanie Sy (04:15):
Have there been a lot of people displaced? I’ve read that there were a lot of homes damaged. Whenever we think of California, we worry about housing and homelessness. And I just want to know if you know how many people may end up being homeless as a result of these storms.
Brian Ferguson (04:31):
Yeah. We believe that there are several thousand homes that will be red tagged, which means unoccupiable, either because of flooding, or mudslides, or debris flows. And one of the things we’re constantly looking at are, what are the impacts on the most vulnerable in our communities? We know that folks who either are older Californians, have disabilities, maybe English is their second language, those folks are disproportionately impacted by all disasters, and so a big part of the effort underway now is, what services can we provide? What local nonprofits or philanthropic organizations can provide aid, so that we can help those who need help the most?
Stephanie Sy (05:06):
When you’re looking at just the mess, the days of intense rain, mudslides, all of that has left, how do you triage that from an emergency services perspective? What is most important right now?
Brian Ferguson (05:19):
Well, obviously the protection of life and property is the thing that we look at first. Unfortunately, we’ve experienced 21 fatalities so far. There still is a five-year-old boy who’s missing that we’re very concerned about. And the work that we do on these is really about, how do we protect people? How do we keep lives? How do we keep people safe? We’ve also had more than 1400 rescues that have occurred, either through planes, getting people off roofs, swift water rescue vehicles.
And so really the goal of the folks at Cal OES, or the State of California, is to put resources into communities early, before the water comes, and use the best science and technology that we have to try to put firefighters, first responders, ambulances to get people out safely. And certainly this is an incident that could have been much, much worse if not for those early efforts, and we always want to learn, and evolve, and to get a little bit better at each disaster that we face. And unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of practice in California, and many of the things we’ve learned during wildfires or other disasters came to bear during this fight we’ve had the last couple weeks.
Stephanie Sy (06:24):
That really brings up my next point, which is that with climate change, a lot of experts predict that California will experience a more extreme cycle between drought, and wildfire, and flooding. It’s even been predicted that California may see a much worse storm event, a so-called mega storm, over a period of 30 days. Have these last couple of weeks been sort of a wake up call? Do you think there will be more policies oriented toward preparation for these type of events in the future?
Brian Ferguson (06:56):
For those of us who do this work, this is no surprise. We’ve been seeing the impacts of climate change firsthand, with a 1,000-year drought, and out in the American West, record wildfires occurring, and all of these disasters actually compound each other. The rains that have fallen the last several weeks have been worse and been more damaging as a result of the drought and the wildfires. Our burn scars where the fires have come through can result in mudslides. Other areas have been impacted on drought, get so hard that the water doesn’t absorb in the soil, and runs downstream almost like a bobsled track, picking up speed as it goes and becoming more dangerous.
It is very clear that the climate change is impacting the way that we do disasters in California, and the number of people at risk, and we do expect that to continue to get worse in the years to come, and that’s why we’re trying to up our game to keep pace. But ultimately, so much of this work is also about individual humans and households, and the steps they can take to be prepared as well.
Stephanie Sy (07:54):
Brian Ferguson with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Thank you so much for joining us.
Brian Ferguson (08:00):