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‘Where’s the help?’ San Diego residents blame a debris-filled Chollas Creek for flooded homes

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How did this happen? That’s what hundreds of Southeastern San Diego residents were asking after their homes were flooded with mud, water and debris, and their cars were swept away in a gushing street river by an unprecedented January storm.

Some of the worst flooding in the county Monday occurred in southeast San Diego, including in the communities of Southcrest, Encanto, Mountain View and Lincoln Park. About three inches of rain fell within a six-hour span, an unprecedented amount of rainfall for January and a region that typically averages around 2 inches of rain per month during the winter, according to meteorologists.

Homeowners and renters shared video with NBC 7 of people on roofs trying to escape wild flash flooding. The aftermath showed a mud covering Beta Street and displaced vehicles stacked on top of each other. Inside homes, a floodline showed waters came up as high as an average person’s shoulders. Property was destroyed and residents were doing whatever they could to clear the mess from their homes and salvage what was left.



A home in Southcrest following flooding from a unusual January storm on Jan. 24, 2024.


A home in Southcrest following flooding from a unusual January storm on Jan. 24, 2024.


A home in Southcrest following flooding from a unusual January storm on Jan. 24, 2024.


NBC 7
Mud and debris in San Diego’s Southcrest neighborhood the day after a powerful storm system on Jan. 23, 2024.


NBC 7
A car sits in floodwaters in San Diego’s Southcrest neighborhood the day after a powerful storm system on Jan. 23, 2024.


NBC 7
A resident’s items covered in debris after flooding in San Diego’s Southcrest neighborhood the day after a powerful storm system on Jan. 23, 2024.


NBC 7/ Joey Schafik
A car sits in floodwaters in San Diego’s Southcrest neighborhood the day after a powerful storm system on Jan. 23, 2024.


NBC 7
A car in Southrest on Jan. 22, 2024, that was tossed around in floodwaters during a powerful storm.


Residents move furniture from a home damaged by flooding next to cars moved by the waters during a rainstorm Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)


AP
Juan Gonzales gestures to the waterline of a flooded home during a rain storm Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)


AP
Tony Blas points to the water line inside his home that flooded during a rain storm Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)


AP
A woman walks by cars damaged by floods during a rainstorm in San Diego on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)


AP
Marlene Sanchez-Barriento salavages items behind her home damaged by flooding, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024, in. Sanchez-Barriento’s home was damaged when flood waters rushed though her home on Monday, Jan. 23. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)


AP
A woman examines cars damaged from floods during a rain storm Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)


NBC 7 San Diego | Elroy Spatcher
A truck drives through flooding on Harbor Drive near Laurel Street in downtown San Diego, Jan. 22, 2024.


NBC 7
SR-78 in North County was completely flooded by heavy rains on Jan. 21, 2024.


NBC 7
The Interstate 15 near National City was flooded


AP
A car sits along a flooded road during a rain storm Monday, Jan. 22, 2024, in San Diego. Heavy rainfall around the U.S. on Monday prompted first responders in Texas to conduct water rescues and officials in California to issue evacuation warnings over potential mudslides in parts of Los Angeles County. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)


NBC 7
Rescue workers help a dog get to safety in the Southcrest neighborhood of San Diego after a rain storm brought flooding on Jan. 22, 2024.


Courtesy: Ellie Bostron
A truck drives through a flooded intersection in Little Italy, Jan. 22, 2024.


NBC 7

Several neighbors told NBC 7 they blame the flooding on a clogged Chollas Creek, which snakes through several of the hardest-hit areas. Julietta Del Rio was one of the many Southcrest neighbors who said they raised the flag ahead of the storm.

“This problem is for the city. The city hasn’t cleaned the canyon for 40 years that I’ve lived on this property… nobody does,” Del Rio said.

Paul Quijano’s home runs right along the canal and also blames a trash and debris-filled creek for causing the floods. As the water raged, it dumped out straight into his backyard and into his home.

“When we bought this house two years ago, we knew it was a flood zone. We knew it was possible that this canal could flood but we’ve seen it in prior storms… it never overflowed,” Quijanos said. This is the first time debris got caught with all the trash, on that side of the canal and it spilled over and it caused the flooding.”

“Ultimately, I want the city to be transparent about their maintenance plan for the Chollas Creek because this is where it all started, this is where it got clogged,” he added.

While Quijano may not have seen anything like this, nearby resident Naomi Phillips-Terry, 88, saw this happen once before — in 1989. This time, water flooded her home up to her knees and was in every inch of the house.

“This should just never have happened again,” Phillips-Terry said. “And I’m really upset as I get out about it because it’s devastating. It really is.”

Mattie Lopez questioned, “Where’s the help? Where’s the help that we need? It’s too much, it’s just too much.”

Residents from the community were at the mayor’s news conference Tuesday at the Red Cross located at Lincoln High School to question what happened and to ask for better maintenance for their neighborhood.



Trash and piles of debris were left from the floodwaters that came from Chollas Creek, which overflowed from the canal. NBC 7’s Jeanette Quezada was in Southcrest, where she spoke to residents whose homes flooded.

The city of San Diego’s Stormwater Department said the cause of the flooding was heavy rainfall combined with an “aging stormwater system with limited capacity.”

“The amount of water that we received yesterday, there is not a drainage system that would have been able to accommodate all of that,” Mayor Gloria said. “What happened yesterday was extraordinary. What we have down there, I do believe it needs to be improved.”

Many people in the neighborhood don’t have renters insurance and those that do, don’t have insurance that covers floods; most insurance policies exclude flooding, mudslides and debris flow unless a supplemental “difference in conditions (DIC) policy is purchased from a separate company, according to the California Department of Insurance. Some have little options but to hold out hope help is coming.

On Wednesday, the city’s Environmental Services Department started removing accumulated trash and debris from storm-impacted areas in the communities of Southcrest, Mountain View and other neighborhoods.

Teams from the city’s Transportation Department will be removing mud and sand from streets and addressing damage to streets and public sidewalks. If a street is experiencing flooding, or a city storm drain is clogged, residents can report it using the Get it Done app or by calling 619-527-7500. Residents can also help city crews expedite clean-up activities by parking vehicles off city streets while work is underway.

This week, stormwater teams are conducting inspections on city levees and storm channels. Six of the city’s 15 stormwater pump stations were overwhelmed during Monday’s storm; two remain out of service and crews are working around the clock to bring them back online, city officials said.

City crews were in the neighborhood for the last two days to clear out the storm system. The Stormwater Department said they received more than 500 calls regarding flooding and other issues during and following the rain.



A historic storm left Southcrest neighborhoods in apocalyptic conditions, NBC 7’s Shandel Menezes reports. 



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