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"Two to three feet of mud, sand and debris": Los Osos recovers from storm while preparing for more

Phyllis Schoonbeck's house after Monday's winter storm
Gabriela Fernandez
Phyllis Schoonbeck's house after Monday's winter storm.

Many people throughout the Central Coast this week returned to homes that were damaged or destroyed by the winter storm. One area hit hard is Los Osos, where about 20 homes were damaged — with two of them completely destroyed by mud and water.

Phyllis Schoonbeck has been living on the Vista Court cul-de-sac for about 20 years. She said Monday’s rain didn’t seem dangerous in the afternoon, so she went over to her neighbor’s house to chat.

“I had been working in my bedroom with the slider to my bedroom door open and my neighbor called to say, why don't you come over? That was about 4:30, and I said fine. So I whispered to my kitty who was sitting on the bed that I was going across the street, [and] I'll be back in a little bit,” Schoonbeck said.

Schoonbeck said she was inside her neighbors house for about 10 minutes when they heard a loud rumble. She looked out the dining room window and saw about 2 to 3 feet of water rushing into her neighbors' front yard.

Volunteers helping the Vista Court houses clean-up their neighborhood.
Cal-Fire SLO
Volunteers helping the Vista Court houses clean-up their neighborhood.

“We thought it was rolling down the street like there had been a pipe burst, and then I looked at my draperies in the living room and I saw that they were brown up into about three feet. I thought to myself, 'Oh, good — I'm in trouble too,” Schoonbeck said.

The flooding came from a water retention basin on a hill above the neighborhood called Cabrillo Estates. The basin ruptured, unleashing floodwaters onto the Vista Court cul-de-sac.

Schoonbeck said if she didn’t leave her house when her neighbor called her over, she would have been trapped in her bedroom, or possibly caught up in the floodwaters herself.

But then Tuesday morning, Schoonbeck said something miraculous happened. About 100 people from across SLO County showed up to help Schoonbeck and her neighbors, affected by the flooding, clean up the neighborhood.

“I knew about four of them, four, and they worked like crazy because I had two to three feet of mud sand and weeds and debris in my house,” Schoonbeck said.

One of the volunteers cleaning up on Wednesday was Annette Sheely. Sheely said she was visiting the cul-de-sac to see a friend when she saw how badly the neighborhood was affected by the storm.

“When we were driving away, I noticed my friend was in this driveway and she just had tears in her eyes and she was helping her friend who lives here. The hillside basically slid down into her house,” Sheely said.

Sheely said when she saw the destruction, she immediately posted about it on a Facebook group called Support Los Osos — and people showed up.

Schoonbeck said because of all the help, she was able to find her two cats, Zippy and Silky, who are now safe.

Los Osos Vista Court cul-de-sac after the winter storm
Gabriela Fernandez
Los Osos Vista Court cul-de-sac after the winter storm

“I'm just so grateful for all the people that I never knew that came out and supported me. Initially I was embarrassed to think that I needed to have people help me because I'm stubborn and I'm independent until I'm not anymore. So it's been an awakening, but I'm so eternally grateful,” Schoonbeck said.

In a Thursday morning press conference, SLO county officials said they’re in the process of inspecting damage across the county, including Los Osos.

“We like to remind everybody there's a saying that we use is turn around and don't drown. Stay away from these areas,” Scotty Jalbert, SLO County’s Emergency Services Manager said.

SLO County representatives said while they’re there to support recovery efforts, the exact plans are up to the Los Osos Community Services District.

It’s not clear yet what form that will take. The Los Osos CSD did not respond to requests for comment from KCBX, but told the SLO Tribune they are planning to finish a temporary solution for the failed retention basin before this weekend’s rainfall And, they said they'll be working towards a more permanent solution after the weekend.

It’s also not clear what funding could come to the area to support recovery and repairs.

One of the damaged homes on Vista Court
Cal-Fire SLO, Toni Davis
One of the damaged homes on Vista Court

But on Monday, President Biden added SLO and Santa Barbara Counties to a list of California counties eligible for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Meanwhile, Congressmen Salud Carbajal and Jimmy Panetta asked the federal government to do more.

They asked for additional funding so FEMA can receive claims from families and businesses, provide unemployment and legal assistance, crisis counseling, and other storm related services for the Central Coast.

Heavy rain is forecast to return this weekend, though forecasters said it will likely not be as strong as it was earlier this week. SLO county is urging residents to stay away from bodies of water and to be diligent if they live near creeks, streams, or rivers.

“I'm just blown away. I mean I never in my wildest dreams ever thought that I would need to have to lean on people but they're basically saying have no problem with it because you need it. And so I'm smiling a lot in between the tears,” Schoonbeck said.

SLO County residents can visit ReadySLO.org for more information on county wide damage, and road closures.

Gabriela Fernandez came to KCBX in May of 2022 as a general assignment reporter, and became news director in December of 2023. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an associate producer on the TahoeLand podcast. When she's not writing or editing news stories, she loves to travel, play tennis and take her 140-lbs dog, Atlas, on long walks by the coast.
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