Some of the 14,000 residents evacuated due to historic flooding in San Jose will be allowed to return to their homes Wednesday night, a day after rising floodwaters sent residents fleeing inundated homes, crippling entire neighborhoods, which some said resembled water theme parks.
“None of us have been more happy to see sunshine than we are today," Mayor Sam Liccardo said at a news conference on Wednesday. "We're urging people not to return to their homes in mandatory evacuation areas."
A firefighter was hurt while trying to rescue a family pet, officials said, adding that there were no other known injuries.
The flooding on Tuesday forced the shutdown of a key commuter artery into Silicon Valley Wednesday after water spilled into a low point on the freeway.
The deluge appeared to be receding, Liccardo said, but he warned residents to avoid any contact with the contaminated flood water.
"The water is not safe. There is contamination in this water, and the contamination runs the gamut," Liccardo said. "Obviously, we saw vehicles that were inundated in Rock Springs. That's certainly fuel and oil, but also we're concerned about any potential mixing with sewer as well."
The mayor acknowledged that the city failed to properly notify residents to evacuate when some people said they got their first notice by seeing firefighters in boats in the neighborhood.
He added that many residents were caught off guard and vowed to launch an investigation into the city's failure to properly communicate with residents.
“If the first time a resident is aware that they need to get out of a home is when they see a firefighter in a boat, then clearly there has been a failure,” he said.
Liccardo said there is no question the city needs to improve communication in the future. The city also announced an online fund to donate to the flood victims.
"We do not need stuff. We do not need blankets and materials. What we need is money to help families recover," Liccardo said.
The Silicon Valley Auto Dealers Association contributed $100,000, while PG&E, the Knight Foundation and the Silicon Valley Organization have also donated, Liccardo said. Lyft is offering free rides to those affected.
Footage from NBC Bay Area's SkyRanger on Wednesday showed flooded salvage yards, office parks, school yards and horses trapped in their pens. Aerial scenes showed at least five to six horses drinking the dirty water.
Flood waters were too high to attempt a rescue Wednesday; the city's department of animal control said they would try again Thursday.
Coyote Creek reached a 100-year high during the storm this week. The creek is subsiding and remains about half a foot above flood level, said Bob Benjamin, forecaster with the National Weather Service.
Mayor Liccardo lauded the city's fire crews for working overnight to evacuate people from flooded homes. More than 400 people have been evacuated by crews in boats. More than 14,000 people were affected within the mandatory evacuation areas. Over 36,000 people throughout all the areas targeted for advisory evacuations were affected, the mayor's office said.
Irma Gonzales says police woke her and her boyfriend by pounding on her apartment door in San Jose at 2:30 a.m. and ordered them to evacuate because of flooding.
Dazed, the 59-year-old Gonzales said Wednesday she only had time to grab a change of clothes and her two Chihuahuas.
She says the creek that runs next to her two-story apartment complex was the highest she's ever seen it and looked as if it was going to overflow at any moment.
She says firefighters yelled "hurry up'' and "move it'' until everyone was loaded in their car.
She called the experience "scary,'' but disagrees with some people who are angry about the lack of information leading up to the evacuation. She says she feels she was given good warning.
A water rescue team from Menlo Park is expected to help out with the flood rescue efforts today.
The city declared a local emergency Tuesday, after record flooding from the Coyote Creek submerged a neighborhood. City officials expanded mandatory evacuations approximately 250 feet beyond the Coyote Creek's 100-year flood zone, running from north of Interstate 280 to south of U.S. 101.
Floodwaters engulfed whole city blocks and submerged parked cars, as firefighters in inflatable boats ferried stranded residents to dry ground.
About 480 homes were ordered evacuated in low-lying Rock Springs and police officers went door-to-door advising residents at three mobile home parks near the Coyote Creek to seek higher ground, city spokesman David Vossbrink said.
"They said we had 10 minutes to pack the things we wanted to bring," said 10-year-old Jaycey Manuel, who threw some clothes into a backpack and rode with neighbors to higher ground.
The city set up evacuation centers in the Mayfair Community Center located at 2039 Kammerer Ave. and in the Shirakawa Community Center at 2072 Lucretia Ave.
Overnight, flood victims gathered at James Lick High School at 57 N. White Rd and Evergreen Valley High School at 3300 Quimby Rd.
Firefighters said the Shirakawa and Mayfair evacuation centers will close on Wednesday night. Shelters at James Lick and Evergreen will remain open.
At least 225 residents were taken Tuesday to dry land and rinsed with soap and water to prevent them from being sickened by floodwaters that had traveled through engine fuel, garbage, debris and sewer lines. No major injuries were reported.
Meanwhile several other communities downstream from a Northern California reservoir gushing water for the first time in 20 years braced for flash floods and evacuations. The surge released from Don Pedro Dam into the Tuolumne River in the foothills east of Modesto was expected to reach overtopped levees late Wednesday.
San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services spokesman Tim Daly said the water released from Don Pedro is expected to reach its peak along a stretch near Vernalis that's already at dangerous levels. He added that the water isn't expected to spill over the levees but will likely increase pressure on them, causing possible breaks in any weak places.
Earlier Tuesday, five homeless people were rescued from the nearby Los Lagos Golf Course after swift-moving water surrounded their encampments.
"We knew we would have flooding in San Jose. We did not know how bad it was," San Jose Fire Captain Mitch Matlow said. Matlow also said it was the worst flooding he has seen during his 35 years working in Santa Clara County.
The area is getting a brief break from the rain, but a flood warning for central Santa Clara County will remain in effect until further notice.
The Anderson Dam in Santa Clara County reached capacity over the weekend, and after heavy rain, it began overflowing into the Coyote Creek for the first time in 11 years.
City officials said they have been warning residents along Coyote Creek to prepare for potential evacuations for a few days as a result of the rushing water flowing from Anderson Reservoir, according to city spokesman David Vossbrink.
"The water district is telling us that they're not seen this level of flows coming down the Anderson spillway in their experience so that really does create a situation that is new for everybody," he said.
Aside from the deluge of recent rain that caused water levels along the creek to rise, Liccardo added that some sort of breach in the creek made matters even worse.
"We're still trying to nail that down now, but clearly there is a source in the creek where there is a significantly large amount of water that is rushing in," he said. "This is more than the typical inundation."
Regardless, Liccardo suggested that something still went wrong with planning for this major event.
"As I sit here today and look at a neighborhood that is completely inundated with water where we have fire crews doing whatever they can to get people out, there's no question in my mind there was a failure of some kind," he said. "We'll have plenty of time for 'Monday morning quarterbacking' in the days ahead. Right now, we've got to do whatever we can to get people out."
HOW TO HELP:
The City of San Jose's online fund to donate to flooding victims.
The San Jose Earthquakes have a set up a fundraiser page.