After storms, neighbors pitch in
■ Funds, donations sought for West K Street residents impacted by Sunday sewage flood
By Donna Beth Weilenman
The storms that dumped rain and buffeted Benicia with strong wind gusts over the weekend caused street closures and power outages. Sunday’s storm also badly flooded the lower units of a West K Street apartment complex.
“It was a tidal wave,” said Jessica Horn-Cornelius, community manager of the Waterstone Terrace, 522 West K St. “We have restoration crews on site. It’s an ordeal.”
One tenant, who had been experiencing a respiratory infection, had to be hospitalized, she said.
Others have taken refuge in their apartments’ upper floors after a wall of sewer water soiled their furniture and other first-floor belongings that, along with soaking carpet, have been pulled outside and stacked up in two parking stalls.
Water damaged some of her tenants’ cars, preventing them from going to work, Horn-Cornelius said. “My general population isn’t wealthy,” she said, explaining that lost work will hurt her tenants.
Inside some of the townhouses, her residents have lost Christmas presents, furniture, children’s toys and books and shoes they had left by their doors.
Most are remaining in the apartments while the repair crews remove the carpet, begin checking the condition of the drywall and set up massive, noisy blowers that will be running in the complex at least a week.
She said she bought her tenants bagels for breakfast and pizzas for later meals while their apartments were being stripped and food that might have been contaminated by the water was dumped.
“I’m worried about keeping my people comfortable,” she said. “It’s going to be a long week.”
Those interested in helping can take donations by the apartment at 522 West K St., or call the complex at 707-751-1634.
Author JD Mader is a Waterstone tenant who began telling others about his neighbors’ needs for sofas and other furniture, as well as money or gift cards for food and other items.
“Early Sunday morning, a three-foot wave of sewage water went through the entire complex,” he said. “A lot of people on the first floor lost everything — Christmas presents, their kids’ toys.
“They need furniture, blankets, anything like that. Cash donations would be great,” he said.
Mader, whose book “The Biker” came out this year, also wrote “Joe Cafe,” released last year, and has written shorter works. He’s also the president of PPMC, a motorcycle club, and he’s already told the club’s members about the flooded tenants’ needs.
He’s using his website, jdmader.com, to describe the storm and the impact it’s had on his neighbors, and he’s hoping other Benicians will be willing to help those neighbors recover from the storm.
“Some of my neighbors are taking vacation days to try and save their things. All are running fans at their own expense,” he said. “We don’t live in the nicest part of Benicia. This is a huge blow to the families we live near.”
At the storms’ peak, 515 Benicia customers, including some of the city’s art studios, lost power, said Brittany McKannay, spokesperson for Pacific Gas and Electric.
The electricity losses started as early as 2:30 a.m. Saturday, she said, but continued to take place until 4:45 p.m. Sunday.
The 15 different power outages experienced locally had a variety of causes, ranging from power lines striking each other and losing energy, to damage by wind, rain, trees and limbs, she said.
“Wind was a large factor here,” she said.
The largest outage in Benicia took place Sunday, when 350 customers lost power, she said.
Benicia Artists Open Studios and Arts Benicia Pop-up Holiday Art Market were taking place during the weekend and were impacted by the storm.
Witnesses said water covered the floor but did no harm at Hip Chick Designs, 946 D Tyler St. Neighboring artists used buckets to catch drips caused by leaks. Arts Benicia itself, 991 Tyler St., had puddles by the doors Sunday, caused by blowing rain, exhibit visitors said.
“Sunday’s early-morning storm was rather intense,” said Melissa Morton, interim Public Works director.
She said complete data on the storm hasn’t been sent to Benicia yet, but added that the storm’s length and intensity “was significant in this area.”
City Public Works crews had tried to prepare Benicia for the storm, as is the department’s usual practice, Morton said.
“Prior to any storm of significance, we clean storm drains, refill sandbag stations for the public to use, monitor the storm’s progress and the water level at the Lake Herman Dam,” she said.
“We check tide patterns to see when drainage may be limited due to a high tide; we make sure chainsaws are sharpened and that all of our wet weather gear and any other tools we may need are ready to help our staff serve the community in an emergency,” Morton said.
She said the city’s emergency operations center was opened at 9:15 a.m. Sunday, and a temporary shelter was opened at the Benicia Community Center, 350 East L St.
“The intent of opening up the Community Center was to provide a dry, warm place to go, to the extent folks might need it that morning,” she said. Other sites were available for similar use, had they been needed, she said.
Coffee was ready, and local news broadcasts were turned on at the community center, but no one sought shelter there, she said.
“The facility was primarily made available as a precaution, in the event conditions worsened during the day,” she said.
Because the weather cleared, both the emergency operations center and the community center were closed at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Morton said.
The storm caused the city to close several streets, said Anne Cardwell, director of Administrative Services.
Morton said the closures started early Sunday morning, but were reopened by early afternoon Sunday once crews decided those streets were safe for vehicles.
“The water at each of these locations was high enough that it was not advisable for small cars to pass through,” Morton said.
Among the closures, most of which were lifted later Sunday, were Park Road from Industrial Way to Bayshore Road in Benicia Industrial Park, they said.
The 200 to 500 blocks of East E Street and the 300 to 400 block of East I Street also were closed temporarily, Cardwell said.
Public Works crews monitored the 300 block of East H Street, where a drain had been impacted by the storms, as well as 600 West K Street, Cardwell said.
Some flooding occurred at 958 Rose Drive and at East Second Street, by the East E Street parking lot, she said. Ironically, sand and sandbags were made available to residents at that parking lot.
But they also were available at the Corporation Yard at 2400 East Second St., she said.
“We’ve received multiple inquiries from residents for sand bags,” she said Sunday.
Benicia’s three weather stations, at Fire Station 11, 150 Military West, Fire Station 12, 601 Hastings Drive, and the Benicia Water Treatment Plant, 100 Water Way, received between 1 1/2 and more than 2 inches of rain during the storms.
At the water treatment plant, rain gauges received 2.10 inches of rain, bringing its season total to 6.24 inches so far. Wind gusts reached 54 mph.
At Station 12, gauges collected 2.22 inches of rain, falling at 0.8 inch an hour or more and accompanied by winds reaching 38 mph. That station has received 7.28 inches of rain so far this winter.
Station 11 reported receiving 1.51 inches, bringing its winter season total to 5.66 inches. Winds gusted to about 30 mph this weekend.
The National Weather Service said residents should expect more rain Tuesday, starting with a 60-percent chance that rises to 90 percent Tuesday night.
Probability of rain Wednesday starts at 80 percent during the day, but drops to a 20-percent chance of showers by nightfall.
Beginning Thursday, days should be sunny and nights should be partly cloudy. That pattern should continue through the weekend, the National Weather Service predicted.
Highs will range from 58 to 60, and lows should be in the low 50s, except Thursday night, when the Weather Service expects the low to be 46.