Merced residents try to fend off floods and determined thieves

Merced residents try to fend off floods and determined thieves

In recent weeks, Merced neighbors Mariya Nelson and Beth Lee have not only rebuilt their storm-ravaged homes.

After a series of break-ins, they are now the de facto neighborhood watch for affluent homes that run along a road near Bear Creek, which has flooded several times in recent years. week during the The series of hurricanes in California.

They were forced from their homes in early January when they were washed away by more than 3 feet of water.

Then came the robberies. Nelson, 33, counts at least seven attempts at his home.

“We were hit hard,” he said.

Rain and high winds lashed Merced on Tuesday, with some areas under evacuation warnings and the threat of more damage on the horizon. Sandbags block the entrance to Nelson’s home, and a tarp covers part of the roof, which collapsed in a recent downpour.

He said he’s been in this house “almost 25 years, and we’ve never had anyone break in.” Now, with another evacuation warning issued for his neighborhood, Nelson has seen an increase in break-in attempts.

Nelson said a thief parked in his driveway Tuesday morning in broad daylight and approached his house. The individual just ran away, he said, when he appeared at the door.

“My house is full of children,” she added, and she fears for their safety.

Lee, 53, is no stranger to disaster. He lost his old house in 2020 Creek fire and used the insurance proceeds to buy his current home.

The defense attorney is currently living in a rental while his house is being renovated. But he said recent break-ins, along with flood warnings, have prompted him to stay home.

He counts at least nine break-in attempts in the last two months.

“We started fixing the house” after the last flood “and had to stop again” because of the recent flood warning, he said.

Now the house is empty, and two storage pods in the driveway hold her belongings — or they did, before thieves broke in and took what they could.

When he bought this house on the river, Lee knew it was in a flood, but he told himself “we’re in a drought.”

Thinking back on the experience of enduring a catastrophic fire and then a flood within three years, he shrugged. “I guess it’s climate change?”

Nearby, at the Merced County fairground, two large gymnasiums were converted into emergency shelters for those displaced by the storms.

All 200 available beds were empty on Tuesday night. John Ceccoli, a spokesman for the Merced County Human Services Agency, said the facility has seen a maximum of 36 people at a time since reopening last week.

More than 600 people stayed at the facility during the severe storms in January, he added. As raindrops fell outside Tuesday afternoon, workers wondered if more flooding was coming.

“I’ve never tracked weather so closely in my life,” Ceccoli said.

In nearby Planada, the El Gallito bakery stayed open through several storms.

It was the bakery flooded with the town in late January. Today, the store’s doors are protected by sandbags and tarps, and the family that runs it has worked hard to make their home flood-proof. The floodwater-damaged fixtures — more than a foot high and containing sewage — have mostly been replaced, thanks to community support on GoFundMe.

The pantry at the front of the store was noticeably heavy, with the shelves below almost empty. Every day at closing time, family members remove goods from the lower shelves and place them on the counters, taking care not to lose inventory again.

Keeping the business going is important, said Leonardo Villagomez, son of owners Luis and Estella Villagomez.

The family needs the income.

“We have no choice,” he said.

Times staff writer Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report.