Elisha Holmes, (left) and Elbert Williams (house in background) both lost homes in Paso Robles.
January 27, 1969
This time it was the North County’s turn. It is typical for Santa Margarita to hold the mark for most rainfall in the county but in this 24-hour period Paso Robles edged into the lead with 2.01 inches of rain, the .01 being the difference.
Falling on ground saturated for a week, rainwater turned the Salinas River in the words of staff writer Dave Verbon “…a muddy, bloated mess…”
Elisha Holmes and Elbert Williams lived in almost identical homes near the bank of the Salinas.
Quoting from Verbon’s story:
“The river was down Friday,” said Williams. “I came back, took a look around and thought about spending the night there. But I finally decided to leave and took my livestock with me.” When he returned early Saturday morning, he found the river had swallowed his house.
“I didn’t get anything out of the house,” he said, looking across the muddy expanse of water at what had once been his home.
Holmes’ house had also been destroyed, but he had been fortunate enough to get some of his belongings out before the waters came.
“What I couldn’t get out, I lost,” he said, “and I had to leave two deep freezes and a brand new washing machine in there.”
The loss of Williams’ house was an added blow to Holmes. He had built it several years ago himself. Williams hadn’t turned the electricity off before he left Friday night, and the house presented an eerie sight Saturday, washed up to its windows in flood waters, tilted at a 45-degree angle in the river, but with its porch light still burning brightly.
A bridge on Highway 101 in Atascadero came close to washing out. Other nearby areas were threatened.
River Gardens had another problem in addition to the threat of the Salinas River threatening to overflow. There was no way out of town.
Back-up rain water and other minor flooding had severed the two roads into the area, and by 6 a.m. Saturday morning, when it appeared the river might cascade into the houses, a group of residents took it upon themselves to find a way out.
The community had been pushing for an emergency route out of the area across the Southern Pacific railroad tracks for some time. Unfortunately, the route had never gotten past the negotiation stage, and it was too late to talk Saturday morning. County Supervisor Hans Heilmann of Atascadero gave the residents permission to tear out the barricade blocking the tracks and build the emergency road.
About 100 volunteers gathered at the spot almost immediately tore down the barricade and filled in a road across the tracks with loose asphalt, which they kept filling in as residents drove in and out, evacuating themselves and their belongings.
River Gardens was spared and there was little risk of a collision on the tracks. Rail service was out until Tuesday because of a slide and derailment near El Capitan in Santa Barbara County. Cambria lost a water main and was using over 1,000 feet of fire hose to bridge the gap. Lopez Reservoir had 1,000 acre-feet of water stored before the storms, it now had an astounding 20,472 acre-feet. Water that would have thundered through Arroyo Grande and Oceano on the way to the sea was now going to be tap water. Damage estimates surged to $3 million.