Dangerous floodwaters got ‘deeper and deeper’ in San Diego

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Dan Pryor initially called a friend to bring over a shop vac Monday morning when floodwaters started creeping into his San Diego home.

But in a matter of minutes, the volume was no match for even the most heavy-duty vacuum.

“It’s like half an inch, but in a few minutes, the seeping water turned into 3 inches,” said Pryor, 49. “Next thing I know, it was 12 inches, then it got to about 18 inches, and I was like, ‘OK, this is getting really scary.’ ”

He knew he and his 15-year-old daughter, home sick from school, needed to escape — and fast. While he tried to grab some items from his safe, the water in their Southcrest rental kept rising.

Unable to open their front door because of the water pressure outside, they climbed out a window with their elderly Chihuahua, Jessie. They landed in waist-deep water and tried to maneuver up their street, which had been transformed into a fast-moving river.

“The water was getting deeper and deeper. … That’s so incredibly scary to think if we were there for two more minutes,” Pryor said. “I’m real happy that we’re both alive.”

A man stands next to a wall where a water stain at the level of his nose shows the flood depth.

Dan Pryor stands next to the line left by almost 5 feet of water in his San Diego home.

(Jim Howard)

Pryor’s family was one of hundreds in San Diego caught in dangerous flash floods Monday when a storm dumped historic rainfall on the region. By Wednesday, many were busy with arduous cleanup.

Like other neighbors in Southcrest, Martha Navarro sorted through her soggy, muddied and waterlogged home, navigating the aftermath of what city officials called a “thousand-year storm.”

“Our floorboards are lifted because of the water. Our walls are warping; our drawers in our kitchen, they don’t even open anymore,” said Navarro, who lives not far from Pryor. “It’s basically everything that we own, and now we have to start basically all over again.”

San Diego officials said Wednesday that they were focused on recovery efforts, with teams still trying to address storm drain failures that probably contributed to the flooding, as well as assisting with trash and debris removal. Two of the city’s 15 pump stations remained out of service; six were overwhelmed during Monday’s storm.

Muddy earth and water between two homes.

The aftermath of flooding open the exterior of Dan Pryor’s San Diego home.

(Dan Pryor)

“We’re still in the cleanup phase and trying to identify all the homes that were affected,” city spokesperson José Ysea said. “We know hundreds of people have been displaced,” he added, but said there’s not yet an estimate of the number of homes and businesses that were damaged.

The San Diego Fire Department said its crews conducted at least 150 rescues Monday, but only a few injuries were reported. Officials say no one died in the flooding.

Officials asked residents to complete an online survey to help determine the extent of the disaster and what state or federal assistance may be available. On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency for both San Diego and Ventura counties, with the goal of providing additional resources and minimizing bureaucratic roadblocks during recovery.

“We’re just right now cleaning everything and basically throwing everything out,” said Navarro, who had to swim to rescue her dog from the rising floodwaters. On Wednesday, the 34-year-old said their home, like many, reeked of sewage and mold; she wasn’t sure it would ever be livable.

No one was there when the water started rising Monday, but Navarro said her husband noticed the flooding on their security cameras and called her.

“I was like, ‘What do you mean the house is flooding?’ ” she said. “Then I looked at the cameras and I see the backyard.”

She said the water had already reached the base of their house — and their 3-month-old puppy, Zero, was stranded outside, trying to swim to higher ground. Then the security cameras went dark as the power went out.

“I was freaking out,” Navarro said. “I rushed home from work.”

She drove as far as she could before parking her car and running to save her family’s puppy. Soon she was practically swimming.

“It [was] getting deeper and deeper,” the mother of two said. By the time she reached their black Labrador mix, she estimated, the water was 5 feet deep — about her height. Her husband wasn’t far behind, she said, and the three of them, somehow, swam to safety.

“We managed to get out,” Navarro said. “He carried our puppy and I just swam behind, holding on to what I could so I [wouldn’t] drown. … We were holding on to railings, holding on to walls and windows. We climbed over fences and gates.”

“I know I risked my life just to save him,” Navarro said. “I just couldn’t leave him behind.”

The couple isn’t sure what comes next for their family of four, plus Zero. They purchased their home less than two years ago, and now they barely recognize it. The floods left nothing untouched.

“When I managed to look inside, I saw everything floating,” Navarro said. “Our refrigerator was tilted to its front just floating in the water, our kitchen table, our appliances were just floating everywhere.”

Atenea Watters also couldn’t leave her pets behind when she realized the flooding in their Southcrest neighborhood was becoming dangerous. She figured out a way to get her two dogs and two cats onto the roof of their one-story home, before climbing up herself.

“The water was already on my chest,” Watters recalled Wednesday. “It was very scary.”

She continued to call her husband — who was rushing in her direction but stuck in traffic — with updates, but then one of the dogs jumped off the roof. Watters jumped in too, pulling the animal back to safety — but dropping her phone in the process.

“That was the last contact I had with her until I got to her,” her husband, Devin Watters, said.

“I never expected it raise up to 4½ or 5 feet in the house,” he said. When he got to their neighborhood about 45 minutes later, the 36-year-old said, he had to swim to his house, where he joined his wife and their pets on the roof, awaiting a Fire Department rescue via kayak.

New San Diego residents, the Watterses have no idea what will happen in the coming days — or even weeks. Their landlord has put them up in a hotel, but they know their renters insurance doesn’t cover flooding.

“We spent so much time packing the house in New Hampshire,” said Atenea Watters, 37. “Now, we lost everything.”

Pryor, a tattoo artist, spent much of the last 48 hours trying to salvage some of his daughter’s clothes. He said he feels like the the dog in the ‘This is Fine’ meme, “but it’s waves instead of fire,” he laughed.

“I’m stressed because I have nowhere to live,” he said, but added, “I feel really, really lucky I have so many amazing friends.”



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