Firefighters arrived at the Mujica home early Saturday to warn them: A lot of water was coming down Mariposa Creek and they’d better prepare to evacuate.
Hours later, the couple, both in their 70s, went to a relative’s home while their son, Vicente Mujica, worked furiously to try to draw the floodwaters away from their house with a pump.
“I’ve lived here about 25 years and we’ve never seen anything like this,” he said Saturday.
The Mujicas were among about 100 people forced from their homes over the weekend after water overflowing at the Mariposa Reservoir spillway sent a rush of water down Mariposa Creek toward Le Grand, authorities said.
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The Red Cross set up an emergency center at Yosemite High School in Merced, although shelter supervisor Julie Doyle said it appeared evacuees had found refuge elsewhere.
Merced County Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza drove through the area Saturday, helping to deliver sandbags to homes.
On Sunday, he was back out with fire officials who were assessing damage. A report on the situation was expected Monday. As of midday Sunday, about 10 homes were still inundated, Espinoza said.
A crew of inmate workers from Mariposa County was helping reinforce the creek banks with sandbags, he said.
Abundant rain and snowmelt led Merced County to declare a state of emergency Thursday evening.
Between Thursday and Friday, the Le Grand area received 0.85 inches of rain, more than five times the average for the two days, according to National Weather Service figures.
So far, 2017 has been the wettest year on record in terms of snowpack and precipitation, according to the Merced Irrigation District.
Regional flooding from high creek flows was reported at various locations in the county. Highway 59 was closed between Merced and Los Banos, with traffic redirected to nearby roads.
Jim Cunningham, a Le Grand rancher, spoke to the Sun-Star by phone Saturday morning as he drove his four-wheel-drive Ford Explorer through floodwaters covering a road named for his family.
“Oh, my God,” he said. “Mariposa Creek is right up to the bridge.”
An almond orchard he passed was flooded with about a foot of water, he said.
“That’s not good for the trees,” he added.
Cunningham said the wet winter has been hard on his cattle.
“They’re standing out in this muck,” he said.
“I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never seen as much water as we had last night.”
While the center of Le Grand was dry, floodwaters were trapped on the east side of the railroad tracks, which he said “are acting like a dam.”
He spotted a group of emergency workers and local residents gathered near the town’s fire station.
“Farmers like to talk about weather all the time,” he said. “Well, they sure have a lot to talk about.”
Michelle Morgante: 209-385-2456