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‘This is the community I grew up in.’ Lindsay mayor on managing floods in his city

Three breaches in the nearby Lewis Creek caused water to gush into the eastern Tulare County city of Lindsay.
Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado
Three breaches in the nearby Lewis Creek caused water to gush into the eastern Tulare County city of Lindsay.

Eastern Tulare County communities like the City of Lindsay are continuing to clean up from the series of storms this month that brought flooding. This interview aired during All Things Considered on March 21 and Morning Edition on March 22. Read the transcript for this interview below.

CRESENCIO RODRIGUEZ-DELGADO, HOST: The city of Linsday in eastern Tulare County is one of several in the region to experience extreme flooding during the recent storms this month. In the brief pause in rain, the city declared a state of emergency to prepare for a new storm this week. But for some residents, the damage is already done. In this interview, KVPR’s Esther Quintanilla spoke with Lindsay City Mayor Hipolito Cerros to hear how he’s leading his community through this time. He starts off by describing the initial flooding on March 10.

HIPOLITO CERROS: Within 10 minutes we started seeing this overflow in the dam because of the water, a lot of the debris in the canals. We were able to identify three breaches total in the canals going northwards of Lewis Creek. These breaches were upwards to 6 feet.

ESTHER QUINTANILLA: Wow, three different breaches…would you say the flooding almost came as a surprise?

CERROS: It was a complete surprise. We just did not expect these breaches to go to the extent that they did. We didn't expect the snow to melt at the extent that it did. And that's exactly why we started seeing a lot of this heavy flow.

QUINTANILLA: What are you hearing from homeowners?

CERROS: I'm hearing a lot of devastation, a lot of frustration. I'm hearing individuals losing their personal belongings absolutely damaged their homes are just the infrastructure is potentially beyond repair.

QUINTANILLA: Can you talk about who exactly was the community that was impacted the most during this emergency?

CERROS: A lot of these individuals that reside in the communities…they're first-generation individuals, they’re [agricultural] workers, they’re elderly individuals, they’re non-native speakers who maybe English isn't their first language.

QUINTANILLA: Wow, can you talk a little bit about the community effort that really is rebuilding Lindsay?

CERROS: So the community came together…we saw this problem and they realized, you know, we all need to come together and address this problem together, because if we don't address it, it's only going to get worse. Lindsay high school athletes, particularly our football team and the track team and a lot of the community members came together and physically went out there with chainsaws, broke down the debris and filled up the soil in order to repair that breach. So if it wasn't for the community coming together, from the city to our local churches, to our local schools, then this breach wouldn't have been addressed and we would have seen overflow again and again.

QUINTANILLA: Absolutely, and there is that emotional tie there because you grew up in the town of Lindsay. Can you tell me about what it’s like to see your hometown submerged underwater?

CERROS: This is the community I grew up in. This is the community that I love, you know, and I've never seen something like this. You know, just to see the look on people's faces of just complete stress, complete despair and complete frustration, it's absolutely devastating.

QUINTANILLA: You mentioned before that the community is coming together to rebuild Lindsay. At this point, what does recovery look like? And is there a possibility for aid coming from the state or the federal government?

CERROS: Right now we're actually in conversations with the county to see how we can partner up and in order to invest into our canals and clear up that debris. We established an emergency cleanup crew that were out clearing of debris. We cleared up a lot of the areas where we saw this debris in the overflow of dams. We addressed the breaches. We've cleared up our gutters. On the city level, we've definitely done a lot of the work.

QUINTANILLA: The city set in place drought orders last summer, what is it like now having to deal with the opposite problem?

CERROS: Just a year ago today, we were in this major drought where residents were only allowed to water their lawns, wash their cars, and water their plants every other day. And now to see this complete coin flip, it's absolutely eye opening. It's definitely cause for a lot of opportunity. Opportunity to invest in water storage collection, water capacity. Opportunity to address the needs our [agricultural] workers and our farmers require. This is, to [an] extent, just the beginning. We're still going to deal with the repercussions of how it's going to impact our homes, the residents, the infrastructure and our local economy.

RODRIGUEZ-DELGADO, HOST: That was KVPR’s Esther Quintanilla with Lindsay City Mayor Hipolito Cerros talking about the city’s recent flooding impacts.

This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.