Sunday, 01 Oct 2023

Theyre sacrificing us: a California town feels ignored months after flood

Theyre sacrificing us: a California town feels ignored months after flood


Theyre sacrificing us: a California town feels ignored months after flood

Nearly four months after the waters washed through Planada, most of Samuel Gomez's one-bedroom house has been stripped back to the studs. He was still sleeping in a small room at the back of the house - the only one that hadn't been completely wrecked.

"Yeah, I'll get sick from all this," said Gomez, 80, gesturing at the mould-marred corners and sludge-soaked floorboards. "But where do I go?"

In early January, the small Central Valley community of Planada was one of the first towns engulfed by a wave of back-to-back storms that hit California this winter. Amid relentless rains, a creek that runs past the town broke through an ageing levee. Flood waters swamped the town and surrounding agricultural fields.

About half the homes were damaged, and many remain in various states of disrepair. Water lines mar neatly painted facades. Piles of salvageable furniture and boxes full of waterlogged memories have been left to air out in back yards.

Months later, residents are still digging themselves out. And local leaders are pleading for more help, without which the unincorporated, rural community of 4,000 might never fully recover.

A handful of families remain at the temporary shelter set up at Felix Torres Housing, a county-run housing project for migrant farm worker families, while others are sleeping in trailers parked in their back yards, or in half-disassembled homes with torn-out carpet. Most families here didn't have flood insurance, let alone personal savings to cover the cost of repairs. Farm workers lost weeks or months of wages as one "atmospheric river" storm after another inundated planted fields.

A report published this week by the UC Merced Community and Labor Center estimates that most workers in Planada are probably undocumented, and therefore ineligible for federal disaster aid or unemployment insurance. Even those who do qualify are finding that the relief money is far from enough to restore ageing homes that have been gutted by the storms.

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