‘The community that refuses to die.’ Tulare Lake waters rise around Allensworth
Some Allensworth residents are choosing to stay and protect property despite an evacuation order due to threats of flooding.
ALLENSWORTH, Calif. – Water from multiple rivers and creeks continues to flow toward the small rural community of Allensworth in Tulare County as a new storm arrived overnight Tuesday.
All the rain and runoff from the nearby streams is threatening to turn Allensworth into an island, said community spokesperson Kayode Kadara. He said people living in the eastern portion of town were forced to leave.
But there are still residents who have chosen to stay and protect their property. Kadara is one of them. He warned residents who were staying to stay prepared.
“If you plan to stay after the evacuation order, make sure you have enough food and water, supplies for your family to last at least a week,” Kayode said.
On Sunday, a waterway breach began to increase the flooding in this southwest part of Tulare County. In a Monday video update, Tulare county Sheriff Mike Boudreaux confirmed there were breaches in up to five locations that crews tried to patch up. A breach is a gap made along a wall or barrier.
“They began trying to repair those breaches immediately. However, it was unsuccessful with the amount of water. That water completely encompassed and circled those communities of Alpaugh and Allensworth,” Boudreaux said.
Residents in Allensworth have worked since the weekend to prevent water from reaching their community. But so far, the runoff from streams like White River, Deer Creek and Poso Creek has flowed uninterrupted.
Those bodies of water drain into the Tulare Lakebed as do other rivers like the Tule River, Kaweah River and Kings River.
Some roads remained open only for residents of Allensworth and Alpaugh as an evacuation was in place. Tulare County Sheriff’s deputies went door-to-door to advise residents to leave. But it was unclear how much longer roads would be open.
The evacuation order affects about 1,000 people in the two rural communities.
“We’re asking that everyone cooperate with these evacuations and evacuation warnings because they’re put in place for the protection of life,” Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said over the weekend.
Evacuees were directed to go to the Tipton Memorial Building, a temporary evacuation point. But many in Allensworth were reluctant to leave – having already tried to stop the water themselves.
Residents worked to excavate a makeshift embankment over the weekend along Palmer Avenue to contain water from White River.
“People are uncertain about the water,” Valerie Jasso Gorospe, who works with the nonprofit Allensworth Progressive Association, said. “People want to stay and protect their property. They want to protect their animals.”
Last Friday, over 100 residents in Allensworth turned out to a public safety meeting ahead of the flooding. The biggest request from residents right now is more sandbags.
For now, Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux says crews are watching for significant rain Monday through Tuesday evening.
“What does that mean? That means that the waterways could rise. That means the lake could rise, the amount of water coming out of the spillway could rise,” he said.
Boudreaux said extra state and local fire and law enforcement agencies remain staged in Tulare County to respond to emergencies.
Allensworth and Alpaugh sit at the shoreline of Tulare Lake, once the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. The lake was drained in the late 1800s to be used as farmland, and it last reappeared during heavy precipitation in 1997.
Allensworth was established by Col. Allen Allensworth – the highest ranking Black officer in the Armed Forces – in 1908. The community was for a long time a thriving Black agricultural town but has seen diminished resources overtime.
The town nearly faced demolition in the late 1960s before it was recognized as a historic site and the Col. Allensworth State Historic Park was established. It has also been plagued by drought and lack of connections to water sources, which has brought drinking water issues to the rural community.
The town now is contending with rising waters of the Tulare Lake.
The Allensworth Progressive Association put out a list of supplies for families to support those who will need the help. You can find that information here.
In a press release, the organization said “Allensworth is the community that refuses to die.”