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City officials, volunteers urge people to leave Salinas Riverbed as storm approaches

An encampment at the Salinas Riverbed
Posted at 7:03 PM, Jan 04, 2023

Ahead of the storm on Wednesday, the City of Paso Robles issued an evacuation warning for the Salinas Riverbed within the city limits.

Paso Robles Fire and Emergency Services Battalion Chief Scott Hallett estimates there are at least 200 people living in the riverbed.

“We just want to make sure that everybody's out of harm's way,” he told KSBY.

Officials set up signs and crews flew a CHP helicopter overhead around 11 a.m., to make the announcement.

"A few of the hazards, obviously, is being swept away by the high water. They can also just get trapped in all the debris that's flowing through the river. And then, you know, the water is unhealthy. You get a lot of the runoff from the storm drains and the roadways,” he explained.

Chief Hallett warns that the rising water might catch people off guard, especially at night.

“Once the channels start flowing, they have no way to get across to higher ground, and that's usually where we find problems with them getting trapped out on the islands. and then eventually the water rises up to them, which can actually sweep them away,” he said.

The city also partnered with volunteers to notify the residents of the riverbed. Chris Sesto volunteers with the group, Hope and Faith, which brings supplies to people living in the riverbed.

“We're trying to send a message that the first priority is just to get from the low-lying area. Then we'll kind of worry where — where you go, you know, temporarily once you get out of the riverbed,” Sesto said.

The volunteers said they spoke to about 20 people.

“The reaction is they believe that they can ride this out, largely. Most people want to be up on hillsides away from the river bottom, and they think that will suffice. We're here to tell them that that may not suffice," added volunteer Michael Hedges.

At the ECHO Shelter, CEO Wendy Lewis said they also have case managers spreading the word about the dangers in the riverbed.

“We have outreach case managers that are out in North County having those conversations in the parks, in the river beds, encouraging them to take those next steps to keep themselves safe and get back into housing,” she said.

Shelter officials are passing out medicine, ponchos, tents, and have meals available for people who need them. Organizers expect more people to come to the shelter because of the rain, but say they have a full house.

“Both locations, we have 110 beds and we are full every night during these really challenging weather times. And so at Echo, we're just trying to do everything we can to respond in the best way we can,” Lewis said.

The City of Paso Robles did not announce a deadline for the evacuation warning because of the chance for more storms.