'Explosion of water' flooded Morro Bay's Main Street, damaging businesses

  • In World/Asia
  • 2023-01-12 18:44:22Z
  • By San Luis Obispo Tribune

Floodwaters tore through Main Street in Morro Bay on Monday, leaving thousands of dollars in damage to local businesses in its wake.

Now, after spending the last few days cleaning up mud and assessing the loss, they're bracing for a new hit this weekend.

Jeff Babb, owner of Central Coast Cart Rentals, watched his business fill with 3 feet of water on Monday - wrecking the golf carts, electric bikes and scooters he rented out to customers.

"A 3-foot wall of water came down that road right there," Babb said, pointing at Main Street. "It's just panic."

Babb estimated that replacing his damaged equipment would cost $250,000 - a price he doesn't think he can afford.

Main Street is located in a flood plain, so Babb wasn't able to secure flood insurance. He's hoping to receive disaster relief funding to pay for the damage and keep his business running, he said.

"All of my electric bikes are gone. All of my electric scooters, gone. They were fully submerged in the water," Babb said. "Once they go under, all the control panels - they fry. Just like anything else that doesn't want water."

Morro Bay City Manager Scott Collins said the sudden deluge and flooding was unlike anything they had experienced before.

"It went from rain, just a trickle, to complete overwhelmed in a matter of an hour," Collins said. "We've never seen that before. It became critical immediately."

Jeff Babb, owner of Central Coast Cart Rentals in Morro Bay, looks at the mud line just under the counter top after his business was flooded.
Jeff Babb, owner of Central Coast Cart Rentals in Morro Bay, looks at the mud line just under the counter top after his business was flooded.  

Storm and flooding plunge Morro Bay into a state of emergency

When the storm roared into Morro Bay on Monday, it quickly flooded roads, businesses and vehicles while pushing residents into evacuation centers.

That morning, the creek near Main Street overflowed and spilled into the surrounding area, according to Morro Bay City Manager Scott Collins.

Rainfall in the city combined with water rushing down from the nearby hills created "a very volatile, unfortunate, and very tragic explosion of water," Collins said.

At 10 a.m., rain fell steadily onto quiet Main Street. By 11 a.m., flooding overwhelmed the area - and the Emergency Operations Center was "getting 10, 20 calls for service," Collins said.

The city has a gauge near the Main Street Bridge to measure water levels. If water levels reach 8 feet, it's considered a flood.

On Monday, the water level at the bridge reached 15 feet - which meant 7 feet of floodwater had rushed through Main Street.

"Our roads looked like lakes," Collins said. "It was just a horrific sight."

Debris lodged in bends of the creek, which plugged up the water and created more flooding, Collins said.

"On top of the water that's being dumped from the skies, you had a perfect storm of things that created that quickness in which it escalated to an emergency," Collins said.

The city courtyard also flooded on Monday, Collins said, which reduced their capacity to respond to the flooding.

"(City staff) couldn't get to a lot of our tools because at that point the shop was flooded and vehicles were flooded," Collins said. "We were operating a little less than full capacity at that point."

Firefighters, police officers and other emergency responders did the best they could to warn residents of flooding, Collins said.

A 78-year-old man was found dead in a stored boat in Morro Bay after the storm, according to the Morro Bay Police Department, but no other deaths related to the storm were reported in the city.

Many Morro Bay residents were landlocked for a portion of Monday due to various road closures in and out of the city, according to Collins.

"There was a point in time where you couldn't get in or out," he said.

Morro Bay set up two evacuation centers on Monday, one on the north side of the city and the other on the south side.

"Everybody was taking care of each other," Collins said. "Morro Bay is a very tight-knit community, and it showed."

Mud fills Main Street in Morro Bay near Highway 1 after creeks overflowed the banks.
Mud fills Main Street in Morro Bay near Highway 1 after creeks overflowed the banks.  

City crews work to clear mud and reopen streets

The city's maintenance crew cleaned up and opened South Bay Boulevard on Tuesday morning, then jumped over to Main Street around midday.

On Wednesday, the city re-opened Main Street from Radcliff Avenue to northbound Highway 1, according to the city's Facebook page.

Cleanup crews returned on Thursday, and the city hoped to open the rest of Main Street by the end of the day, the city said.

The city's maintenance team only includes 10 people, Collins said.

"That's what our budget allows. That doesn't go very far," Collins said.

So Morro Bay also hired three contractors to assist with the storm cleanup: Crye Brothers, Papich and Coastal Tree Experts, Collins said.

"We're moving as quick as we can, and we appreciate the patience of our community members," he said.

The city is also working with the county to secure state and federal disaster assistance funding. Residents can submit a report to the county about storm damage to their property at recoverslo.org, he said.

Cart rental shop 'decimated' by floodwaters

On Monday at 10 a.m., Babb had placed a bucket under his leaky heater at Central Coast Cart Rentals - but he wasn't too worried about the rain yet.

At 12:16 p.m., however, Babb and his team saw water rushing down the street, so they stacked sandbags outside of the front door. At 12:30, water started leaking through the front door anyway.

By 12:40, the water was about 1-foot deep outside, and Babb started moving inventory to higher ground in the shop. By 12:45, the shop was flooded with 6 to 8 inches of water, and by 1:02, Babb stood in 3 feet of water.

"From 12:30 to 1, we pretty much were decimated," Babb said.

When Babb returned to the shop on Tuesday, 4 inches of mud caked the 4,000-square-foot building, his equipment and the parking lot.

Babb's friends and employees showed up to shovel mud out of the building and salvage what equipment they could.

"People just started showing up with shovels and brooms, and so we just went to work," Babb said. "I have good friends, and it's a great community."

Still, without flood insurance, Babb doesn't know how he'll afford to keep the business running.

"My wife and I have put everything here," Babb said. "I came in this morning and I'm like, I don't know if I have the heart."

As of Tuesday morning, the city and county hadn't offered any assistance to Babb, he said, but the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce stopped by to discuss potential disaster relief funding.

Babb said he's worried about the weekend storm, which could dump another few inches of rain on the city.

"It could all come again," Babb said. "We're at that point now where I don't want to do anymore, because if it happens all again, then everything we did over the last day is for nothing."

Rebecca and Chris Jules clean mud from the inside of Morro Bay Antiques on Jan.
Rebecca and Chris Jules clean mud from the inside of Morro Bay Antiques on Jan.  

Antique shop flooded with mud and water

Morro Bay Antiques on Main Street also flooded on Monday.

The flood busted through the front door and filled the shop with 14 inches of water, according to owner Chris Jules.

The water had drained by the time Jules stepped into the shop on Tuesday at 9 a.m., but it left 2 inches of mud in the building.

Jules, his wife and two friends spent 11 hours cleaning the business on Tuesday.

"I'm just the kind of person that the sooner I can get it done, the sooner it's over," Jules said.

First, they moved the inventory out of the shop, then they pushed mud into the street using a push-broom and a squeegee. Finally, they hosed off the concrete foot.

"We just swept it all out the front door," Jules said. "We just, like, kicked ass."

Luckily, Morro Bay Antiques lost very little inventory - as Jules had stored some of it upstairs before the storm, and many of the items submerged in water were wood or metal and could be cleaned.

That being said - cleaning the furniture was not an easy venture.

"Silt is really dense, so it takes a little more effort to wash it off stuff," Jules said.

Ahead of the weekend storm, Jules said his landlord will secure the doors with 3 feet of sandbags, so he's not too worried about damage to his business, he said.

Paige Pollock helps out a friend by using a flipped broom as a mud scraper at Morro Bay Antiques, which was flooded in Monday’s deluge.
Paige Pollock helps out a friend by using a flipped broom as a mud scraper at Morro Bay Antiques, which was flooded in Monday’s deluge.  

Morro Bay braces for more rain

Just as the city recovers from Monday's weather punch, Morro Bay will likely see another this weekend as a new round of rain arrives. According to the National Weather Service, Morro Bay has a chance of rain every day from Friday to Wednesday.

Ahead of the weekend storm, the city is cleaning mud off the streets and clearing debris out of waterways, Collins said.

Morro Bay will operate its Emergency Operations Center through the weekend and prepared volunteers to work in evacuation centers if needed. The city will post storm updates on its website and Facebook page, according to Collins.

"We are encouraging people to maintain situational awareness," Collins said. "If you don't have to travel this weekend and you're on safe and high ground, stay there."

Collins expects extreme weather events to strike Morro Bay more often due to climate change, he said.

"Coastal California is on the front lines of that," Collins said. "That's why we need to invest in resiliency."


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