The rain was falling steadily Friday as Riverbend RV Park manager Jack Meadors stood outside and watched as the creek that cuts through the park filled with rain.
As of 7 a.m., Meadors said, he had seen water levels rise in the 5-foot-deep Wild Wood Creek. By 9 am, it was starting to rise. Residents who had chosen not to evacuate changed their minds and began dragging their bells across the bridge before officials closed it.
“He came fast,” Meadors said as he stood outside the park office, which sits near the creek. “You still have all this rain coming. … Once the snow starts to melt, and if it rains more than this — which they said it would — then we’re going to have a lot more.”
Most of the park’s 60 or so residents had evacuated or moved to the other side of the bridge Thursday in case they needed to leave quickly, said Meadors, who spent the day helping to move the trailers and motorhomes. But on Friday morning, some were still trying to decide whether to go.
“We’ve been trying to warn them the last few days,” Meadors said. “So we’ll see.”
The first of two atmospheric river storms descended on California on Friday, prompting widespread evacuation warnings and orders as it flooded creeks and rivers and dropped warm, heavy rain on top of the state’s near-record snowfall.
Fresno County sheriff’s deputies also stayed around the arm of the ensemble Friday morning as they monitored conditions at the Sanger RV park, often a flood risk. The park is located just east of the Kings River, which officials are also monitoring for flooding.
But it was the creek that caused the most concern because once it went over the bridge, deputies would close access — and those remaining on the other side would be trapped until rescuers arrived, Meadors said.
Shanna Daggett, a travel nurse, took the day off work to buy food for her dogs and be with them if the water breached their relocated location.
Daggett was among those who heeded Meadors’ warning. In January, when a storm caused the roof to roar and slide toward his RV, he had less than an hour to pack up and move across the bridge.
This time, he said, Meadors notified residents on Wednesday to start moving because the rain was expected to be heavier. He moved across the narrow bridge and parked his truck and RV next to the park’s basketball court.
One of his neighbors was not so lucky and could not move. White sandbags were packed around their mobile home in an effort to keep it safe from the rising creek bed, Daggett said.
“I was a little scared … last night. Today I breathe better because everything is located for me,” he said. “And in the worst-case scenario, if I don’t have time, I’ll just put my dogs in the truck and go. I’ll leave everything behind.”
Arnulfo, who declined to give his last name for privacy reasons, said in Spanish that he had decided to leave after hearing from RV park management. But he was afraid, he admitted, that all his things might be washed away. He strode along nervously as the stream rose.
“Since I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen water like this,” he said. “They are not staying. What if it floods? It will be more difficult [to leave].
“I’m afraid I’ll lose all my things,” he said. “With water, anything can happen.”
Debbie Weaver, 71, was standing outside for a smoke break during a brief break in the rain. Weaver is from California but lives in Arizona, and had spent the last week looking for homes in the Fresno area to return to.
He found the rain and flood warnings unusual for the area. He had already parked his truck and motor home near the basketball court, near Daggett, but his daughter’s trailer sat across the bridge, motionless, but on higher ground.
“There are people moving around a lot, more than last time,” Weaver said.
“They think he’s going to come to the basketball court,” Daggett said as he took one of his dogs for a walk during a break in the rain.
“You can see how fast it’s peaking,” Weaver said.
“It wasn’t like that 30 minutes ago,” Daggett agreed.
If the river continues to rise, Weaver said, he could hit his trailer and run away. But he was worried about his daughter.
“I hope it doesn’t grow up there,” he said. “But I don’t know.”
By noon, Daggett and Weaver were among those who had made the decision to leave the park. Some people stayed, Daggett said, but the water had already flooded the picnic areas and was only inches from her trailer when she left. The dog park was flooded with a foot of water, he said.
Desiree Balladarez, 41, was sleeping on the banks of the Kings River when a fire department official woke her up.
“I hadn’t been out of my tent yet because everything was just wet and I was just tired,” he said. “He pulled me out of my tent and said, ‘Come see how high the water is here,’ and I said, ‘Oh, my God, it’s really close to us here.’ We could have been washed away.” “.
Balladarez, who is homeless, said the water was only a short walk from his tent.
As of Friday afternoon, he was among a few people staying at the Sanger Community Center, which was open as a Red Cross shelter. Balladarez sat next to her sleeping cat, Baby, who was in a kennel, while three dogs sat quietly in their cages.
She said she planned to ride out the rest of the storm to the shelter and return to her tent near Reedley Beach after it passed.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how green everything will be,” he said.