From gullies below Bald Mountain to Barretta Street in Sonora, people who live in the storm-pounded Sonora Creek watershed were still cleaning up Friday from the historic hail-and-rain deluge that nailed Sonora and surrounding communities Wednesday.
Out Lyons Bald Mountain Road, about a mile-and-a-half northeast of downtown Sonora and just downhill from Shaws Flat Ditch, Kathy Styre was helping her parents, Ken and Bambi Gittings, dig mud out of a garage and a shop and storage building.
They also showed where a sudden river of runoff 50 feet wide filled up their goldfish pond and ripped out a creekside deck.
Ken is 81, Bambi is 76, they’ve been married 59 years, and they have been living on their 40 acres off Lyons Bald Mountain Road for 45 years. Ken Gittings said in all those 45 years he’s never seen a storm like the one that hit Wednesday.
“There was one storm that came with a lot of water in 1985 but it didn’t do any damage,” he said.
Loud and scary
He said on Wednesday there was water, mud, rocks and pieces of wood. It came down every opening they have on the property, a river 50 feet wide and a foot deep in places. Some of the rocks were as big as basketballs, and some were as big as 50-pound frozen turkeys. It was loud and scary. It was raining hard and hailing. The sound was water rushing through at a speed that was unbelievable.
Nobody was hurt, Ken Gittings said. But he and Bambi thought mud and water were going to rise high enough to come into their house. It did come up to the level of the floor of the house. And it left mud up to eight inches deep in the garage and his shop and a storage shed.
“It also took out a driveway up to our son’s place nearby on the same property,” Ken Gittings said. In the immediate aftermath, Ken and Bambi Gittings were trapped in their house with the road closed due to boulders, Kathy Styre said.
Up the hill from their place and across Lyons Bald Mountain Road is Shaws Flat Ditch, part of the Tuolumne Utilities District ditch system that dates back to Gold Rush days.
“Between our house and the ditch is a culvert going under Lyons Bald Mountain Road,” Ken Gittings said. “During the storm a big tree came down and blocked that culvert, so water coming out of the ditch and runoff from the road and runoff from the hillside, it was all coming down on our place.”
The ditch couldn’t hold all that water and hail, and some of that water came down on the Gittings property. Ken Gittings spoke to TUD people on Friday and he said they were very nice, but the ditch can’t hold the water. He said there’s a crooked linear mile of Shaws Flat Ditch on his property, and TUD people use his roads to get to the ditch and maintain it. He said somebody with TUD has committed to come and bring a lot of gravel, so that Ken Gittings can regravel his roads where the storm and runoff washed all the previous gravel away.
Ken Gittings said he built the deck and a pond for goldfish overlooking a tributary that’s part of Sonora Creek headwaters about 20 years ago. Flow off the hill came through their patio and filled up the goldfish pond and tore out the deck.
“Not sure how much got ruined,” he said. “There are chainsaws, and blowers and weed eaters and other tools still under the mud right now in my shop.”
Inmate crew helps TUD
Up Lyons Bald Mountain Road about a hundred yards from the Gittings place, 13 male inmates with Baseline Conservation Camp Crew #3 and Cal Fire Capt. Brent Seidel were helping TUD clear Shaws Flat Ditch.
Josh Kappl, a ditch tender with TUD, said there was a Tuolumne County culvert further up the road that blocked during Wednesday’s storm, increasing runoff and erosion and debris that went into Shaws Flat Ditch. Kappl said Shaws Flat Ditch is more than a hundred years old.
Back down in Sonora, in a low spot between two steep hills on Barretta Street, Todd Armstrong showed where water seeped into his ground-floor apartment while mud levels rose up onto his patio and to the sliding glass door.
Armstrong, 27, showed how all the carpet in he and his girlfriend’s place had to be removed, along with all the headboards. He showed where the runoff seemed to come from, off the steep hillside behind their place. He said they’re still staying at their place. He said their landlord offered to put them up elsewhere for a couple weeks, but they decided to stay.
“No signs of mold,” Armstrong said. “We’d rather stay here. It’s easier.”
Workers outside were just finishing clearing mud out of the apartment complex parking lot. Other residents were using a hose to spray mud off their driveway.
Armstrong and his girlfriend’s place is two blocks uphill from where Joe Marshall got 4 feet of hail in his basement, and hail and runoff flooded a low spot shared by Marshall’s home, the Tuolumne County Probation Office parking lot, and the Sonora AT&T central telecommunications center.
Still displaced by storm
Another block over and downhill on Washington Street, Stevie Kory, 71, was one of several people still displaced. Kory said she was staying at Heritage Inn across Washington Street from the Day-O, and she was placed there by the American Red Cross two days ago when her adult senior living residence, called East Garden Apartments, got flooded in Jamestown.
East Garden Apartments are on Willow Street near Railtown. Kory said she’s lived there five years.
She said she was out on errands Wednesday and came back to her apartment about 2 p.m. to find water on the sidewalk going into her apartment.
“ My apartment is in the lowest spot on the complex,” Kory said. “The hillside behind the other apartments drains toward my place.”
She said mud and water got into two apartments, displacing six people. One woman resident of one of the flooded apartments, she’s 75 years old and she uses bottled oxygen on a daily basis that requires electricity, Kory said. A maintenance man at East Garden Apartments had to shut off power during the storm because water was at least a foot deep in the two flooded apartments.
The 75-year-old woman was taken to Adventist Health Sonora and she remained there Friday and she’s doing OK, Kory said Friday afternoon.
“The Red Cross placed four of us in hotels and others are staying with friends,” Kory said. She said she’s been staying at Heritage Inn in Sonora since about 10 p.m. Wednesday.
Lisa Westbrook with TUD public affairs and communications said there were no wastewater issues related to the Wednesday storm activity at any TUD facilities.
“We were fortunate,” Westbrook said, “despite the amount of rainfall we received in such a short amount of time.”
Cleanup also continued Friday at some businesses that experienced flooding Wednesday. A Servpro truck and Servpro containers were outside lower level rooms at Rodeway Inn next to Sonora Creek in downtown Sonora.
Servpro specializes in emergency service assistance for commercial properties with storm damage, water damage and mold remediation.
Wednesday’s storm pushed precipitation for Mother Lode watersheds to 39.2 inches since Oct. 1, when the current water year began.That’s 137 percent of average for the date March 8.
The historic deluge came from powerful thunderstorms towering as tall as 40,000 vertical feet, lined up and stalling and reforming and hitting the same narrow corridor again and again for about three hours, with the heaviest, strongest system letting loose about 2 p.m., Craig Shoemaker, a National Weather Service meteorologist said. He estimated it was a 25-year storm. Sonora City Engineer Jerry Fuccillo said he thinks it was a 500-year storm.
Contact Guy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.