Fire Chief Derek Parker answered the question at Tuesday night’s Merced City Council meeting, .
He said Bear Creek flows reached 26.25 feet, and water overtopped in several locations. Meanwhile, localize flooding due to prolonged thunderstorms compounded the city’s drainage systems, causing issues citywide. There was also some minor overtopping along Black Rascal Creek, Fahrens Creek and Cottonwood Creek.
“We didn’t have a big blowout,” Chief Parker said. “We didn’t lose a bunch of land. It just came over the banks. And it came over the banks with a lot of ferocity.
“In the western end of town, W. North Bear Creek, and Bear Creek Court, the water came right over the top of the banks. We had some walls in place, and they didn’t hold due to the amount of flow that we actually had. So we had to fall back, get our people safe, and let the public know we had an emergency. We had already issued an evacuation order for that area.”
While talking about some of the flooding in the creek area around E. South Bear Creek near Montana, Parker said: “Growing up here, never ever would I have thought that the water in this area would be coming up onto the roadway. It was an insane amount of water.”
Parker said the water in some areas of creek was also covering some of the adjacent park and sidewalk areas, while the flow was traveling at 5,000 to 6,000 cubic feet of water per second.
When it reached an impact area along W. North Bear Creek Drive, the water topped the bank, went down the street — “always in search of the path of least resistance” — and through a trailer park and Cooper Avenue.
“The water that’s going down Bear Creek Drive is in the 1,000 to 2,000 per second range, which is how cars were raised up and put on top of fire hydrants and moved off the street and into houses,” Parker said.
According to preliminary estimates:
- 1,600 Merced residents were displaced by the flood.
- 5,000 homes were under an evacuation order or warning.
- 26 Merced businesses were impacted by the flood.
- Cost of total damages has not been determined yet.
- No reports of lives lost in Merced city or county due to the flooding (as of Tuesday).
Mayor Matthew Serratto praised city staff for their efforts.
“Obviously there is still a lot of tragedy, a lot of bad things that happened, but you are all to be applauded, especially the Public Works Department, for just an immense amount of work and good work getting out ahead of it and really just working tirelessly to mitigate this unprecedented flood, ” the mayor said.
Parker also cautioned Merced residents to avoid areas around Bear Creek in the coming days and weeks. He said some stretches are unstable and dangerous, and officials are still addressing the situation.
MLK March rescheduled
Organizers of the Martin Luther King 2023 Unity March and Celebration say the event has been rescheduled for Feb. 18 in downtown Merced due to recent storms and local efforts to help residents at this time.
Event chairperson Tamara Cobb told the Times on Tuesday that she expects the event to be held as planned; however, they are still hashing out the details with City of Merced officials regarding street closures and locations. The route of the parade, for example, could change due to street closure availability and emergency operations going at the fairgrounds.
The annual event is normally held every year on Jan. 16 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was previously scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. at the fairgrounds, and marchers were to head down Martin Luther King Jr. Way to the Merced Theatre for the Celebration program.
Stay tuned for updates in the days ahead.