The San Benito County Sheriff’s emergency team rushed to rescue about 50 people from their waterlogged homes and cars early Wednesday because of rising flood waters — an odd sight in California, which has been stricken by drought for the last half-decade.
The NBC Bay Area chopper flew over the flooded farmland community, which had many scratching their heads: Could this really be California?
The dramatic images were more similar to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana than the Golden State, which has been bone dry the last five winters.
Aerial video showed entire homes swallowed up by muddy waters, cars getting stuck and horses and cattle being escorted to safety. The reason? The week of heavy rainfall combined with the Pacheco Creek, which surpassed flood levels by Wednesday morning.
By Wednesday night, the water had receded some along Lovers Lane after a terrifying night that came with no warning.
"I was woken up by a bunch of sounds hitting my house, and I turned over on my bed, I pulled up my blanket, it was soaked," said Steven Vail, who was among dozens evacuated in flood.
Vail got soaked trying to escape the water.
He said his doors were blocked because of the strong current, and when he opened them, it just let more water in.
"Once it got higher, my refrigerator tipped over and started floating around my house," he said. "It was just a disaster."
Evacuees sought shelter in dowtown Hollister. Some of their homes may not be salvagable, though none had yet been condemned. County officials will be going door to door to assess the damage.
"Our family just got back from Mexico," said Bianca Vasquez, whose family was evacuated about 4:40 a.m. from their home on Lovers Lane. "The weather was opposite in Mexico."
She said her mother woke everyone up about 2 a.m. yelling, "Girls, girls, it's flooded." They opened the door to see water lapping at their doorstep. Firefighters carried them out.
Office of Emergency Service Manager Kevin O’Neill said that at about 2 a.m. crews were called out to help rescue someone from a stranded vehicle off Lover's Lane and Highway 152. San Jose Fire Department's water rescue team was also called in to help.
But first responders soon realized that there were dozens of people trapped in their homes. A line of Jeeps trekked slowly out of the Central California rural town in the wee hours of the morning. Hollister fire trucks lined up to take people clad in their pajamas to higher ground. Before the sun camp up, deputies and firefighters were knocking on doors making sure that everyone could get out safely. By mid-morning, ONeill said that 49 people were rescued either by boat, firefighters or other means and an unknown number of animals. Another 59 people left town on their own, he said.
Margie Alvarez decided to stay in her home on the second floor of a home on Lovers Lane to be with her sisters, ages 80- and 90-something.
"My nephew woke me up saying his room was flooded," she said. "I thought there was a problem with my roof. But when I walked downstairs, I was ankle deep in water."
But many were thrilled to be rescued. Images showed an older woman banging on her window trying to get help as red emergency lights flashed under the dark sky.
Elia Meza and her father stood by hoping their horse was OK. They waited anxiously until they heard the good news. Their 2-year-old Vendito had been walked out of the flood waters to safety.
According to National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Anderson the Hollister area has received 2.37 inches of rain since Jan. 1, compared to 3.5 inches in 2008 and the historical record of 4.2 inches set in 1995.
But Anderson said that the creek likely flooded because of the local rainfall combined with the 8 inches of rain that fell in nearby Henry Coe Park that borders Santa Clara and Stanislaus counties.
As she and her family accepted temporary assistance from the American Red Cross at the Veteran's Memorial Building, Vasquez wasn't too upset. In fact, the outpouring of support from the flooding just made her love her tight-knit community even more.
"Hollister is a small town," she said. "It's nice when something like this happens to see how united people can be."