Andy woke us about 5:30 and said he needed to get his three kids staying with his ex-wife in Ventura. The area his ex was living in was close to the river and was being evacuated — the kids would be safer with Andy in Santa Paula. We left for Ventura in his work truck.
It was raining hard, but the freeway was still open. After arriving, Andy’s ex asked if we would also take her daughter who was a half-sister to the grandkids. Making room in the truck, off we went with the four kids. On the return trip, one of the drainage ditches was clogged with debris. Right before our eyes, in the space of just a few minutes, the orange groves flooded and water cascaded over the freeway. Without seeing it firsthand, I wouldn’t believed it could happen that fast. We were one of the last vehicles through before the freeway was closed.
The day passed slowly. We watched the kids use the PlayStation, play with Yo-Yos and surf the internet. From time to time we would get news updates and it seemed the rain was slowly leaving the area. When we heard that Santa Paula was cut off in all directions, we headed to town to fuel the Jeep and buy some groceries.
That afternoon, Jeanne and I decided to scout the route to the coach. A CalTrans truck blocked the road, but after explaining our situation we were allowed to pass. The driver warned us the road was marginal at best and that we were on our own. We were about to find out just how bad it really was.
The road was a sloppy mess. The narrow path that had been plowed through the mud was filled with a half-mud/half-water mixture that reminded me of the liquid clay used cast pottery. It was slick as snot and we put the Jeep in 4-Wheel Drive Low to get through it. We almost stuck the Jeep. A little way past the mud, we discovered half the road had washed into the river. We carefully picked our way through the section; just inches between rushing water and an unstable hillside.
After what seemed like hours, we turned onto the road that would cross the river. Was the bridge still there? Would we have to try to turn around and get back out? Was the road behind us still passable? One thing was certain, if we slipped off the road into the water, we were good as dead. We kept this thought in mind as we neared the bridge.
Salvation is at hand! The Bridge Still Stands!
After scouting the bridge on foot we determined the bridge was safe for driving. We drove across, careful not to linger a moment longer than needed. Arriving at the campground, we discovered the river had changed course and was washing directly into the foot of the cliff at the campground. A huge section of the cliff had already broken off and slid into the river forcing the evacuation of several campsites along the edge. There was only about 40 feet between our rig and the watery abyss. It was decision time. With the water receding, we decided to stay put for the night. Jeanne said “if those three trees along the edge go over, then we’ll move”. I agreed and we settled for the night. We were nervous and every boulder rolling down the river put us on full alert. Around 8:00 PM, there was a tremendous crash that shook the coach. Bottom line, another 15 feet of the campground broke off and the three trees were on their way to the Pacific Ocean. It was time to move the coach – immediately. Right Now! Despite the rain and darkness, we were out of the campsite in record time.
We spent the rest of the evening in a section of the campground that was relatively safe. We were not in imminent danger, but without fresh water, power or a septic system, life would get ugly real fast. Oh yeah, there was also no phone, TV or internet. There was only one thing left to do — lie awake all night and worry about it.
Contemporary Note: In retrospect, the freeway flooding was a very dangerous situation. Once the drainage clogged up, water immediately started coming across the freeway — the water was fast, deep and sweeping all sorts to debris onto the roadway. I can’t begin to describe how quickly this all happened. If you are ever in a similar situation, find some high ground and wait it out.