Heavy damages for Oregon Avenue

Publication Date: Wednesday Feb 11, 1998

Heavy damages for Oregon Avenue

Small neighborhood near 101 and Page Mill Road reels from the effects of the flood

Terri McKinsey only cried once on Wednesday as she went through her house.

"I went into my stepdaughter's bedroom and saw she had taken my Jordan Junior High School yearbook and my Paly High School yearbook and put them on the top shelf," said McKinsey, standing in her waterlogged front yard watching as her husband and his friends brought out pieces of their floor to a growing pile of rubble on the curb.

Nearby, work crews powerhosed the street and dumpsters were filling with mud-stained couches, rugs and mattresses. Families were sweeping mud out of their driveways and dragging ruined belonging to the street. Almost every garage had its door open, revealing muddy floors strewn with debris. Many front doors were also open. The view inside wasn't much different.

McKinsey lives on Sierra Court, at the end of Oregon Avenue just north of Oregon Expressway and west of Highway 101. It is a neighborhood of modest homes, close together, most of them ranch-style with smallish front yards.

Last week almost every car parked on the street looked as though it had been driven down a dirt road in the rain. Seats and dashboards covered in silt showed how deep the water had been in the early morning hours of Feb. 3.

"All of a sudden we had no time," said Paul Hsiung, a Sierra Court resident who left his house in the McKinseys' boat on Tuesday morning. "We didn't have any time to pack up anything."

The absence of advanced warning was a topic of much conversation on the streets and cul-de-sacs leading off of the southern half of Oregon Avenue last week. The area is a natural settling point for the wave of water that broke over the banks of the San Francisquito Creek in the early hours of the morning on Feb 3. City officials said that the 41-foot drop from the Crescent Park area to the Oregon Avenue neighborhood caused the water to travel swiftly and settle in a deep, muddy pond.

"Even before San Francisquito creek overtopped its banks, there was a lot of localized ponding of water in the streets due to backup of the storm drainage systems," said Glenn Roberts, Palo Alto's director of public works. But the backups had nothing to do with blockage, Roberts said, as the city cleans its drains every year. Rather, "the storm drains, which run to the creeks, had no place to discharge," he said, because the creeks were running so high.

Residents are sure to be wondering why their neighborhood wasn't seen as a potential freshwater flooding hazard and wasn't forewarned of potential danger.

"I was very angry," said Hsuing. "We were asking for help and nobody was coming, except for Dennis."

Dennis McKinsey, Terri's husband, is the hero Hsuing is referring to. McKinsey used his own boat to evacuate neighbors on his street. Others banged on doors to wake their neighbors, in an area that some feel was forgotten in the melee of Feb. 3. Neighbors have been left wondering why it took so long for them to be reached by emergency officials.

Roberts said the Oregon Avenue/St. Francis Drive area is covered in the FEMA map, but only as a salt water flood area, susceptible from the bay across Highway 101. "We did not initially expect that these areas would be flooded to the degree or depth that they were," Roberts said.

--Elisabeth Traugott

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