There was an island in the desert over the Christmas holiday weekend, but it was no mirage and no paradise. The small hamlet of Tecopa in remote southeast Inyo County was cut off from the rest of the world when, on Dec. 22, floods took over the three paved arteries that are the only means in or out of the town.
County Administrator Kevin Carunchio said he drafted a proclamation, titled “Disaster Deluge,” declaring a state of emergency for all of Southeast Inyo. He said the damage to county-owned roads in more than $225,000 and the Tecopa Sewage Pond Project will be delayed at a cost of $60,000. He said the ponds took on an additional 400,000 gallons of storm water.
And, in the far north end of the county, the Riverside Road Bridge Project north of Bishop required $20,000 in additional costs due to the excess of water in the Owens River.
According to Inyo County Sheriff’s Sergeant Doug Richards of the Lone Pine Substation, more than 18 inches of water flowed across State Route 178 east of Shoshone for more than two days straight. S.R. 127 and Tecopa Hot Springs Road also received shoulder damage and were closed, stranding the citizens of Tecopa and a few unlucky travelers until the water could dissipate.
On Dec. 24 Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado declared a state of emergency in Inyo and many other counties in the state because of severe winter storms.
Carunchio said the county provided the Senior Center in Tecopa as a warm and safe place for residents and travelers to wait out the storm. Kathy Nixon, a worker at the center, said there were more than 18 people who sought refuge over that weekend.
“Kathy is fantastic,” Carunchio said, adding that she was a “one-woman show” going door-to-door in the community and setting up the center.
Nixon said there were a few travelers who were stuck in Tecopa and a few residents’ homes suffered extensive roof damage.
Richards said he and other officers had brought meals to Tecopa as well as making additional sheriff’s deputies available to the community for safety. He added that deputies also went door-to-door throughout Southeast Inyo assessing personal property damage and checking on citizens’ safety.
The California Emergency Management Agency as well as county Health and Human Service and Public Works staff were in Tecopa Wednesday assessing damage and loss, Carunchio said.
Carunchio added that he was very impressed by the quick reaction of the state to the local disaster, especially when so much of the rest of the state, particularly Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Tulare counties are also in serious need of help following the holiday storms.
Carunchio explained only the president of the United States can truly declare a state of emergency, while governors and county leaders can only make proclamations and present them to the White House.
The county should be looking at 75 percent reimbursement for the road damage, Carunchio explained. He said in order for the state to receive Federal Emergency Management Assistance, damages must exceed $80 million. Maldanado said that the estimate for assistance needed in Los Angeles County alone is $6,440,000. However, Carunchio said the county and the state will have to wait and see what the White House’s decision will be.
In qualifying his request, Maldonado mentions in the proclamation California’s “economic crisis” and “budget shortfall.”