As Kings River recedes, evacuees assess flood damage amid work to close levee breaches

As water levels on the Kings River begin to recede after flooding nearby neighborhoods late Friday and early Saturday, some evacuated residents on Sunday began to assess the damage left behind.

Doreen Dalbey, who fled Friday night from her home on Finley Drive cul-de-sac on the east side of the Kings River Golf and Country Club, came back to check on her home and to see what repairs need to be done.

“I think the mess is going to be the biggest expenses,” Dalbey said. “but my entire garage is going to have to be completely redone. It had flooded all the way up to less than an inch from the door to the rest of the house, which is unbelievably fortunate.”

Dalbey said that the water had gotten scary high in her garage and that at one point they had no choice but to run. Hers was among 90 homes near the golf course that were ordered to evacuate overnight Friday as the Kings River rose and breached levees. About 300 people evacuated.

“It was like a war zone out here. At one point it (the water) got scary high. I thought the whole house would flood. We thought the water was going a different direction but it started making its way to us. I knew when I saw the water filling up a sand trap and how fast it filled up that we were in trouble and we need to run.”

Dalbey also said she was grateful for the help from the Tulare County Fire Department. “They were absolutely fabulous. They came by and provided us with sandbags. They worked like mad dogs, they were cooperative and worked in this heat.”

The flooding is the result of more than a week of high temperatures that have rapidly melted mountain snow, filling Pine Flat Reservoir and prompting the Army Corps of Engineers to send a surge of water into the Kings River to make room for more runoff behind the dam. The river surge tested levees along the Kings in a way some residents has never expected.

One of Dalbey’s neighbors, John Wilson, said he was very fortunate that his home had not been damaged but said that it was definitely something he had never seen before.

A levee near the 18th hole broke, sending water flowing past the sixth hole, he said. “It was quiet a bit of water, it was pretty freaky and something I had never really seen before,” he said. “Fortunately we built a berm around my home because we thought something like this would happen.”

Wilson said that things are staring to progress a lot better than the last few days.

“It’s 100 times better than it was yesterday,” he said Sunday. “I thought we were gone yesterday.”

With residents returning to their homes to check the damage, Tulare County Fire Department, Cal Fire, PG&E, and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office were working along the area to help the residents get power back to their homes and supplying them with sandbags to help protect their property.

“The progress has been going great today. So far we have multiple crews working and they are currently reenforcing the walls with sandbags around some of the holes” in the levee, Capt. Joe Rosa with the Tulare County Fire Department said Sunday afternoon.

He added: “The residents have been really happy with what we have been doing the last few days, especially now that we have the power back on with potential for them to move back in.”

New aerial photos posted on Facebook by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office show the Kings River surrounding homes at the Kings River Golf and Country Club.

The pictures were taken by the sheriff’s unmanned aerial vehicle. In one posting, which shows floodwaters lapping up to the backyard of one home, Stan Shows comments: “That’s my pool before the flood waters found it!!”

Ninety homes near the golf course remained under a mandatory evacuation order Sunday.

Mandatory evacuation areas were Avenue 408 to Avenue 400; Road 28 to Road 32 (Jasper Drive); Avenue 393 to Avenue 400; east of the river to Road 33; and south of the river to Avenue 393.

A new aerial mission was underway Sunday to repair breaches in the levee along the river. The State Office of Emergency Services said a California National Guard Black Hawk helicopter crew from Sacramento would ferry sandbags to emergency-response personnel to fill breaches in the levee at the country club.

One of the three breaches of the Kings River was reported to have been sealed by midday. Tulare County Emergency Operation Center said that based on the progress of operation, it should be done by the end of Sunday.

The breaches flooded part of the golf course, the Kingsburg Gun Club and seven structures.

About 14,000 cubic feet per second continued to be released from Pine Flat Dam Sunday morning into the Kings River. That is down from the 14,900 cfs being let out Friday afternoon. The Army Corps of Engineers has to release water from Pine Flat to make room for runoff from snow melting high in the Sierra as a result of the ongoing heat wave.

Larry Valenzuela: 559-441-6084, @larryvalwork