When the water doesn't stop

Some South Palo Alto residents were rescued and taken to Red Cross shelters

Monua Janah and her fiance have their neighbor to thank for the advance warning. He banged on their door minutes before water started pouring into their Sierra Court home.

"Thank God he did, otherwise we would have slept through the whole thing," said Janah, from the makeshift Red Cross shelter at the Cubberley Community Center on Middlefield Road.

The water first slid under the front door, then it seeped into the corners of the rooms, and finally it bubbled up through the heating vents until the whole of their one-story home was filled with calf-deep, muddy water.

That was about 6 a.m. Tuesday morning. Janah had just enough time to put some books, a few pieces of furniture and her stereo speakers on top of tables to save them from the flood. But it was too late for some of her things, including some favorite pieces of furniture.

"They're probably ruined," she said. "There's nothing much we can do about that."

Janah also noticed that their cars, along with most of their neighbors' cars, were nearly submerged, with water up to the roofs.

As the house filled with water, Janah watched as her neighbors accepted rides on fire department rescue boats, but she stood her ground until about 7:30 a.m., when it looked like the water wouldn't recede. Then she and her fiance waded out to the boat, which took them to the corner of Greer Road and Oregon Expressway. A school bus was waiting to take them to a shelter set up at Cubberley Community Center.

About 210 people from 70 evacuated homes received assistance from the Red Cross on Tuesday morning, despite the fact that its own headquarters on Mitchell Lane were flooded, which forced it to move its operations to Cubberley.

Those who came to the shelter were from Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.

"People close to the creek at the low plain of the land are the ones that are most compromised," said Palo Alto Fire Department Battalion Chief Phil Constantino, who met with worried residents throughout the morning.

Cots were set up in a dimly-lit gymnasium at Cubberley, and some people tried to rest for a few hours. Children in pajamas played while their parents sat in groups wondering when it would be safe to return home.

The Red Cross provided breakfast and "comfort kits" for the basic necessities, such as soap and toothbrushes, that people don't have time to grab when leaving their homes quickly.

By 9:30 a.m., the fire department was assessing the damage.

Among the areas worst hit in Palo Alto were homes east of Greer Road between Embarcadero Road and Matadero Creek. Particularly hard-hit were St. Francis Drive, Santa Ana Street, Sierra Court and Seneca Street. Flooding was also heavy on Clara Drive at Colorado Avenue.

Most residents were expected to be allowed to return home if waters had receded by mid-morning, if only to pack a few things and store valuable items on high ground before the tide peaked again in the evening.

But Janah wanted to wait. "I don't think our house is going to be dry enough to go back tonight," she said. "We are probably going to spend the night in a hotel. We need to dry out."

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