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California's Pajaro River breached overnight Friday, causing massive flooding


The storms battering California this winter have been relentless, and the swath of communities affected is vast. Let's focus in on one area along the central coast. That's where a levee broke on the Pajaro River in Monterey County. It's caused massive flooding. And we're joined now by Monterey County communications director Nick Pasculli. Thank you so much for joining us.

NICK PASCULLI: Thank you for having me.

RASCOE: So give us the latest on this situation, you know, following this levee break.

PASCULLI: Yes, well, it's a very unfortunate situation that the levee broke on Friday, about midnight - just before midnight. And the extent of the breach is approximately 120ft wide, which immediately, when the levee broke, flooded the surrounding agricultural fields. I'd say within two hours, 2 1/2 hours, it actually made its way to the community of Pajaro, actually, right on the river at the border of the - northern border of Monterey County, adjacent to Santa Cruz County. And so there are about 1,700 people displaced from their homes in Pajaro.

And the town is inundated with water throughout. And some areas are worse than others. But it's unfortunate. We have - we do have all those folks in shelters.

RASCOE: Can you give us a sense of the communities affected? Many of these people are agricultural workers. Tell us about this community.

PASCULLI: The community of Pajaro is a very nice community. Yes, most of the folks that live there work in agriculture in one way or another. Also in the southern part of Monterey County, the community of San Ardo, which is largely an agricultural community, has been impacted by flooding with homes and businesses around the community of San Ardo.

RASCOE: So you were on NPR just in January talking about flooding and evacuations. I know that this must feel relentless at this point.

PASCULLI: Yes, it does feel relentless, especially for the folks who are in these areas that are difficult to manage the water. I think what we're working on doing is we're providing as many services as we can to the folks that are affected by these - by this relentless flooding situation and rain situation. We have mental health professionals available in our shelters. We are 1,000% concerned about not just their physical health, but people's mental health. That is one of our biggest concerns, including our own disaster workers who, as you can probably appreciate, have been working 24 or 48 hours plus without sleep, without, you know, without getting enough food or seeing their families.

RASCOE: It sounds like there's more rain coming. Like, what are the concerns looking ahead? I would imagine, especially in an agricultural community, having these floods is not good for the crops. So what are the concerns looking ahead?

PASCULLI: So, yes, there is more rain expected. You're correct. And the next big storm is predicted to come sometime Monday night into Tuesday. And then, of course, when we have these rains, as is typical of coastal communities in California, the higher elevations - because we are surrounded by mountains - does get a tremendous amount more rain than we do in the valleys. And it's interesting because people say, well, you only got a few inches, but yes, that might be true there maybe, you know, over time with ground saturation, but you also have water runoff coming from the mountains and the creeks that feed into these rivers.

RASCOE: That's Nick Pasculli, communications director for Monterey County, Calif. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

PASCULLI: And thank you for having us. We're grateful. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.