Authorities in Sacramento worked around the clock Sunday, responding to a ceaseless number of calls for help as the powerful “bomb cyclone” storm dumped a record-breaking amount of rain on the capital city.
A storm producing a large amount of rain creates “a bathtub effect” in Sacramento, a mostly flat city surrounded by levees, said Carlos Eliason, a city of Sacramento spokesman. Rainfall on Sunday filled storm drains and reservoirs, which flooded and spilled onto roads and other areas in the city.
Residents reporting localized flooding phoned in a steady stream of calls to the city’s 311 help line, Eliason said. The 311 customer service line is for residents with requests for help with building permits, stray animals, utility services and street flooding. He said city crews worked throughout Sunday with an “all-hands-on-deck” approach, pumping water out of flooded areas.
There were some reports of long wait times for help to arrive. The city on Sunday received more than 3,000 phone calls, emails and smartphone app requests for service to its 311 help line. Eliason said that’s more than three times the amount of 311 requests the city would get on an average Sunday.
“That was simply because the entire city was inundated with water,” Eliason told The Sacramento Bee on Monday. “We just had so much water at one time.”
On Monday, city crews were still responding to about 600 service calls to 311 line. Eliason said the crews were working as quickly as possible to resolve those issues.
The National Weather Service confirmed more rain fell Sunday than any other day in Sacramento’s recorded history; exceeding forecast expectations with more than 5 inches in 24 hours.
Eliason said Sacramento’s rainfall totals over 24 hours surpassed a 200-year storm level, which is a storm that has a 0.5% chance of occurring in any given year.
Water rescues by firefighters
The Sacramento Fire Department conducted several storm-related rescues Sunday night, including families in two homes on Du Bois Avenue in the Glenwood Meadows neighborhood of North Sacramento. Firefighters helped the two families on Du Bois get to high-ground after flooding, said Capt. Keith Wade, spokesman for the Fire Department.
He said eight adults, six children and one dog on Du Bois were temporarily displaced. Red Cross officials assisted the families.
About 10:20 p.m. Sunday, the Fire Department announced on Twitter that a power outage near Pell Drive and Pell Circle shut down pumps, and firefighters responded to help 14 homeless people get out of waist-high water. Wade said several of them were taken to homeless shelters by the Sacramento Police Department. He said there were no reported injuries during the Sunday night rescues.
Eliason said the city’s entire water drainage system was working at 100% capacity with the most intense period for service calls coming from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday. He said some Sunday’s localized flooding was the result of foliage-clogged storm drains, but it could’ve been worse.
The city conducted several repair projects in creeks, channels and levees last fall and over the summer, which allowed the drainage system to hold up, even during a historical deluge over 24 hours, Eliason said. Parts of the city’s drainage system had to contend with flows beyond capacity, and city crews went out, sometimes in dangerous conditions, to clear flooded areas, he said.
Shortly before 3 p.m., the city’s Department of Utilities posted on Twitter a photo of a stalled vehicle stranded on a North Sacramento flooded road, reminding drivers not to try to bypass road closures.
There were some reports of storm drain water pushing out street manhole covers. Street flooding created dangerous conditions for drivers Sunday night, and city officials advised residents to stay home at least until 4 a.m. Monday.
“There was just so much water and it didn’t have anywhere to go,” Eliason said.
— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) October 25, 2021
No impact to levees, drinking water
City officials said there were no observed issues with levees within the city, and there was no impact to the city’s drinking water. The city opened until midnight two locations where residents could fill sandbags if needed.
“While the amount of rainfall from this storm is historic, the maintenance work the city has done on its levees and flood control systems has put us in a much stronger position, as has the newly constructed McKinley Water Vault, which reached its capacity earlier this evening, storing six million gallons of water that otherwise would have gone onto city streets,” Assistant City Manager Hector Barron said in a news release.
Construction of the water-sewage vault at Sacramento’s McKinley Park has come under scrutiny by nearby residents, who filed a lawsuit in November 2018. Residents of the East Sacramento neighborhood argued the 6 million gallon vault ruins the historic look of the park and employs an outdated system that combines 7.4 million gallons of sewage and stormwater to be stored underground.
In February 2019, a judge decided not to halt Sacramento’s plans to build the massive tank that required construction crews to dig up more than 76,000 square feet of the park, about the size of three football fields.
The city says the water-sewage vault temporarily stores rainwater and reduces flooding. Eliason said the vault held up Sunday and prevented an additional 6 million gallons of rain from spilling onto the rest of the neighborhood.
“The vault worked as intended, it filled up,” Eliason said. “All of the city’s storm reservoirs filled up.”