During their meeting on Tuesday morning the Tulare County Board of Supervisors ratified a proclamation declaring a local Health Emergency due to flood water contamination throughout the county. It was also reported the county could see worsening conditions.
Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman presented updated information to the board saying since the rains began they have had more than 400 calls for service and have roughly 400 personnel assisting in responding to those calls. He said they're operating under unified command in order to help the county with the assistance needed.
"This includes a joint information center along with our Emergency operations Center to make sure that we are doing consistent messaging throughout the county to make sure we are meeting all the communities needs," said Norman.
Since Monday Norman said roughly 50 emergency calls due to risks with water were received and responded to, and since the rains began more 89 rescues have occurred.
He said the primary concerns for the area are the Tule and Kaweah Rivers. The dams in the area are also being monitored.
Norman said they're currently operating under a Type 3 incident but would transition to a Type 1 incident within 36 to 48 hours if conditions continue to worsen.
"As we wrap up our morning briefings every day, I talk to all of our personnel, with all our live agencies, and remind them we're in the operational mode in the fire services and emergency services, but make sure we're out there serving with empathy and compassion because some of the people involved, including potentially members of my own family, are going through some of the worst times they've ever gone through in their life," said Norman. "We in public safety, we're there to make things better. People call 911 because they're unable to handle their own circumstances."
Efforts are being made to answer every call, but the current conditions are making it overwhelming for county staff to respond in a timely manner. Sandbags have been available at a number of county fire stations, but demand for the sandbags have made keeping a supply difficult.
Norman said through state funding, once the rains have let up the county should not be in bad financial shape. He stated road recovery is going to be the most challenging part of moving forward, but county fire will be supporting the board along the whole process.
Reed Schenke, the county's Resource Management Agency director, stepped in front of the board to talk about the road issues that have happened since the rains began. He said more than 100 road closures were put in place at the peak of the impact due to water damage, and 20 of those sites have permanent damage.
Shenke said the county will continue to monitor the roads, and their priority is restoring access to the mountain communities.
"Estimating the full cost of the impacts at this time is difficult because damage is still occurring," said Shenke. "Some of the locations are underwater and some of them are inaccessible at this point."
Shenke said through Monday night the county has spent roughly $500,000 already on expenses to repair the roads, and estimated it will cost another $1 million to repair the current known damage to the bridges and multi-millions to repair the roads.
"The devastation we've seen is really on a scale that we've never seen before," said Shenke. "People who have been in the county's roads department for 35 years, this is something we've never experienced."
Vice chair supervisor Larry Micari said the rains have been devastating to his constituents and he has received many calls asking what to do.
"It's flooding everywhere," said Micari. "Depending on which generation you talk to, some are comparing it to the floods of the 1950s… It is truly a devastating event."
Micari thanked those who are helping keep waterways clear for water flow and maintaining private waterways that are inaccessible to the county.
"We have mutual aid in progress," said Micari. "We have people from all over the state and people are still upset saying why don't we have enough resources. We have people from all over the state helping in our county. All of our contractors are busy. The responses we have, we're maxed out."
Micari said spreading the word is the best way to help. He encouraged people to continue to report flooding and damage as soon as possible. He also encouraged smart and safe driving while the roads are impacted by the rainfall.
"Please report these so we can get the quickest response that we can," said Micari. "And please pay attention to the roads and signs. A lot of these swift water rescues are people driving and getting flooded and then expecting someone to help them. So please take heed to that. It will alleviate the pressure on our emergency responders so they can take better care and help us."
Board chair Dennis Townsend said he and his wife experienced firsthand the impacts of the rain as their backyard was completely swamped with river water and he was grateful his house remains safe. He highlighted the hard work of the county and thanked staff for their efforts during the storm.
"Thank you again to everyone who was involved in the rescue and recovery efforts and we are praying for your strength as we go through the rebuilding after this is over," said Townsend.