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North Santa Barbara County fared “fairly well” this week, but is bracing for more heavy rain

A massive sinkhole formed this week at the intersection of Union Valley Parkway and Bradley Road in Orcutt.
Benjamin Purper
A massive sinkhole formed this week at the intersection of Union Valley Parkway and Bradley Road in Orcutt.

The North Santa Barbara County communities of Santa Maria, Orcutt and Guadalupe saw significant damage and disruption from this week’s storm. Now, they're focusing on both recovery and preparation for more rain this weekend.

Construction crews were busy this week repairing the intersection of Union Valley Parkway and Bradley Road on the border of Santa Maria and Orcutt. A massive sinkhole opened up on part of the busy intersection on Monday during heavy rain and wind.

People in nearby neighborhoods like Hibiscus Court were evacuated and at least 15 homes were damaged, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff.

Still, there were no major injuries or deaths reported this week in the area — or anywhere else in Santa Barbara County. Santa Maria Public Information Officer Mark Van de Kamp said given how bad the worst case scenario could have been, he considers that a success.

“Santa Maria handled the storm fairly well. We are now seeing the conditions improve as the dry days are here, and we're looking ahead to prepare for the next rounds of rain, which we understand from the forecast should be less than what we saw on January 9," he said.

Van de Kamp said Santa Maria handled the storm relatively well because it’s a mostly flat city with strong retention basins. He the city is working with the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District to pump runoff from the Blosser Basin into the Santa Maria River.

“That massive basin filled up with a huge amount of runoff, and we need to bring that down because it's already contributing to some localized street flooding. We understand that there will be further rain coming, [and] this rather large basin will be collecting even more runoff," he said.

Van de Kamp said people should avoid flooded areas including parks and the Santa Maria River, and he encourages uninsured people who experienced damage to their homes to report it to the city so that they can get an accurate assessment of damage.

Crews repair damage at Union Valley Parkway and Bradley in Orcutt.
Benjamin Purper
Crews repair damage at Union Valley Parkway and Bradley in Orcutt.

Van de Kamp said the City of Santa Maria is also supporting recovery efforts in Orcutt.

Meanwhile, Guadalupe saw major flooding on Monday from a damaged levee which displaced 20 residents. The county said that levee is now being repaired.

Michael Cash is the city’s Police Chief.

“This wiped out an entire street of people, and it displaced all of them. We’ve got families that are really hurting," he said.

Cash said the city opened up a temporary shelter at City Hall to house displaced residents, who have since been relocated.

“We only had a couple officers that are working. So we all had to stick around and spend the night and make sure everyone was safe. We don't leave anybody behind," he said.

Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management inspectors are assessing the damage in Guadalupe to see who can return to their homes ahead of this weekend’s rain. Cash said social service agencies and Red Cross representatives are also in the city to support people still displaced. 

Santa Barbara County is now approved for federal disaster assistance, and local Congressman Salud Carabajal is asking President Biden for more. That request include direct assistance for individuals and business, unemployment and legal assistance, crisis counseling and more.

Cash said it’s not clear how much worse the situation in Guadalupe will get as the storm returns this weekend. But he said Guadalupe is a tight-knit community, and that he’s confident the city will band together to make it through.

“That's what I love about this place — it's not a matter of if. We're gonna look after each other, we'll figure it out," he said.

Santa Barbara County Communications Manager Kelsey Buttitta said the county is setting up a virtual resource center starting Monday for residents who were affected by the storm or are vulnerable to the incoming storm this weekend.

She said the site will have information on wellness counseling support, housing assistance, information to aid in rebuilding, permitting, hazardous material clean-up, loss of business or employment and more.

The virtual resource center will be hosted on the county’s emergency response website, readysbc.org.

The next round of rain is forecast to peak on Saturday.

Benjamin Purper was News Director of KCBX from May of 2021 to September of 2023. He came from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.
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