California youths help storm clean-up as schools reopen

  • In Business
  • 2023-01-14 01:00:58Z
  • By BBC
The Salinas river is wreaking havoc for Monterey residents
The Salinas river is wreaking havoc for Monterey residents  

As some schools re-open across California, the scale of the damage caused by a once-in-a-generation deadly "parade of storms" is becoming clear - as well as the major clean-up effort that will be required for residents of all ages.

Many schools in central and northern California cancelled classes shortly after the start of 2023 as road conditions became impassable due to downed trees, landslides, floods and snow.

But even as the foul weather continues into a third week, pupils further south are now back in school as officials forecast that the worst of the continuing storms may be over.

In Santa Barbara County, where the exclusive community of Montecito was evacuated due to fears of mudslides, the school district resumed classes for most pupils on Wednesday - one day after Montecito's order to flee was lifted.

On social media, parents fretted about whether pupils commuting to school - navigating through work crews repairing damages -would be penalised for lateness or absence.

High school students volunteered between classes to clean up muddy flood debris
High school students volunteered between classes to clean up muddy flood debris  

At the Midland School in Santa Barbara County, pupils pitched in to help save school buildings from being submerged by a creek that almost never normally flows.

"This was the highest intensity rain I've ever seen," said Zoe Hadley, 18, who like most students at the boarding school has been pitching in to help prevent floodwater and debris from destroying parts of the campus.

As the creek through Midland, which almost never normally flows, broke its banks and flooded into a road, she and other volunteers began laying down sandbags to help divert the flow of the water away from faculty housing.

"When the rains come again tomorrow and this weekend, there's a direct path for the water to flow so the damage won't happen again," she told BBC News on Friday, as forecasts called for another several inches of rain over the weekend.

Regina Butala, who directs the schools horse and rangeland management programmes, described how a drainage that nobody knew "would operate as a stream" suddenly began flooding pastures with debris.

"We had a few instances where horses were getting stuck in mud up to their belly during the flow," she said. "So it was a pretty intense storm for us."

Gillian Kissel, 18, originally from Las Vegas, Nevada, found the sound of the normally silent Alamo Pintado creek pouring through campus "disconcerting".

But, overall, the students' efforts have been "a very fun experience," she said, as some of them with more knowledge of extreme weather help instruct peers and teachers on flood prevention and disaster clean up.

the flooded creek going through campus
the flooded creek going through campus  

"It was one of those moments when everybody was on the same level. There was no seniority, no cliques or groups of friends," she said. "It was really humbling to see everybody working together like that."

  • California's devastating storm in maps and charts

  • Why California's storms are unlikely to fix its drought

Most of California's youth have more experience with wildfires than with rainfall, due to the region's decades-long drought.

Julianna, a 13-year-old in the coastal city of Santa Cruz, paused briefly when asked whether floods or wildfires are worse in her experience.

"Definitely the fires because of the smell," she told CNN, recalling the CZU Lightning Complex Fire which struck her area in the summer of 2020.

Just outside Santa Cruz, 17-year-old Audrey Baxter described returned home after evacuating to find many of her possessions destroyed.

"It's all personal stuff, like stuffed animals from when I was younger, school projects I made in elementary school - just soaked through. Photos that have been smashed," she told the BBC.

Classes were still cancelled on Friday in several areas, including the northern coastal counties of Monterey and Sonoma - a famous wine-producing region.

In Monterey, schools are closed due to the chance of flooding, as officials warn that the overflowing Salinas river may cut off parts of the city. Some 24,000 people there were urged to evacuate on Friday.

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