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The Central Valley News Collaborative is a project of The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.

Tulare County communities inundated as atmospheric rivers drench state

The City of Woodlake is one of several that have flooded as new atmospheric river storms hit California.
Congressman Jim Costa
The City of Woodlake is one of several that have flooded as new atmospheric river storms hit California.

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. – The cities of Woodlake, Lindsay and Visalia in Tulare County declared a state of emergency on Tuesday in response to flooding caused by atmospheric rivers.

The state has been drenched by the storms that were revived after the series of atmospheric rivers in January. Communities in the eastern San Joaquin Valley have been particularly hit hard this month.

Since Friday, heavy rainfall and snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada sent water gushing into Valley communities. Some streets in the cities of Lindsay and Woodlake were turned into rivers by the floodwaters.

“The water was coming through Lewis creek, and that was too much for our system to handle at the time,” Joe Tanner, the Lindsay city manager said.

Since last Thursday, Tulare County has received a significant amount of flood-related emergency calls. Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman says the county has received about 400 emergency calls for service.

On Tuesday, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ratify two emergency proclamations: a local health emergency due to flood water contamination, and ratifying all evacuation orders issued by the Emergency Services director.

The City of Lindsay didn’t have evacuation warnings in place, but Tuesday afternoon the city declared a state of emergency as other cities nearby had done the same.

Tanner said the city is monitoring water levels to ensure public safety.

A few miles north, homes in the city of Woodlake were also overtaken by floodwaters. City administrator Ramon Lara said more than 20 homes were severely damaged by the flooding.

“We probably have four or five blocks where the streets were completely covered, the water going up people's driveways,” Lara said.

Norman, the county’s fire chief, said “there’s nobody that’s immune to these flooding activities.” Flooding reached miles of farmland and scattered pockets of homes across the county.

The Tulare County Resource Management Agency is working on cost estimates from the extensive miles of roadway damage – which may be in the millions.

Tulare County building inspectors are also working on classifying structural damage at 455 locations.

At least six structures have been destroyed and 180 locations have seen flooding damage between 1 to 3 feet of water.

KVPR’s Soreath Hok contributed to this story. 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.