Floods, outages keep Berkeley busy as storm hits

Flooding closed Ashby Avenue late Thursday afternoon. Authorities say it may be open by midnight. Photo: Jennifer Lazo
Flooding closed Ashby Avenue early Thursday evening. Authorities say it may be open by midnight. Photo: Jennifer Lazo

Berkeley city workers handled more than 100 requests related to flooding, and more than 30 calls for tree-related issues, Thursday during a large storm that has been sweeping the Bay Area, authorities said.

City spokesman Matthai Chakko said the city had received 127 calls about flooding as of nearly 3 p.m., and 34 calls about tree-related issues. All of those calls had been cleared by 5 p.m. Staff also gave out more than 5,000 sandbags to Berkeley residents, who were able to pick them up at locations around the city.

Malcolm X Elementary School also experienced significant flooding, and Chakko said the Berkeley Unified School District — which had shuttered all schools and offices Thursday due to the weather — was handling that issue.

See Berkeleyside’s live blog of the “Pineapple Express” storm’s local impacts.


There were several street closures, on Bolivar Drive and Bay Street, and around Ashby Avenue (which is also known as California 13). By late afternoon, Ashby around Interstate 80 had been closed in both directions due to flooding, authorities said. Ashby was expected to re-open by midnight Friday.

(Watch a playlist below of many storm-related videos shared with Berkeleyside by readers Thursday.)

Chakko said the city had been hardest hit by heavy rain in the morning. Codornices Creek overflowed its bank at 9:30 a.m., though Chakko said he did not have the exact location where that took place. The creek runs for 2 miles from North Berkeley’s hills down through the northern part of the city, and out into the San Francisco Bay along the Albany border. By late afternoon, however, the creek was no longer overflowing, he said.

Chakko said the city would continue to hand out sandbags to residents with proper Berkeley identification at the city’s Corporation Yard, at 1326 Allston Way, and at the Berkeley Marina. He said service at the Corp Yard would be available until the late hours Thursday, but did not have an exact time when it would end.

Earlier in the week, the city had given 1,000 sandbags to fire stations around town, which all had been distributed to residents prior to Thursday. Community members had picked up nearly 4,500 additional sandbags from the city over the past few days, as of about 3 p.m. Thursday, he said. And, in response to a request for mutual aid, the city gave 1,000 bags and ties to Alameda County to assist with its storm-related efforts.


Berkeley drivers waiting in line for sandbags. Photo: Sam Walden
Berkeley drivers waiting in line for sandbags. Photo: Sam Walden

Chakko said people within the city should continue to call 311 for assistance — or 510-981-2489 from a landline — to alert the city to Public Works issues around town that need to be addressed. He said two dozen city staffers were lined up to work through the night Thursday to make sure emergencies are addressed. The 311 line will be staffed throughout the night.

“We can’t know about flooding, for example, if people don’t call,” he said. “We’re getting a ton of calls and we’re responding to them but, at the same time, you just want to be sure that people are using it.”

Learn more about Berkeley’s 311 services on the city website.

Chakko said residents who feel safe and capable of doing so are encouraged to clear clogged storm drains themselves, by using a shovel or rake, or even a stick, if that’s what is available.

“That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t call us,” he said. “At the same time, people should try to clear it if they can. It’s a lot faster if you’re already there.”


Several groups of Berkeley Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers, led in part by Khin Chin — the city’s disaster preparedness volunteer coordinator — took to the streets Thursday to help respond to problems around town. Chakko said they picked up leaves along Marin Avenue to address flooding issues, and that other groups worked on Benvenue Avenue and Woolsey Street. [In total, Chin said, 19 volunteers cleared close to 100 bags of leaf debris, and filled perhaps 400 sandbags just before the storm.]

Learn more about Berkeley’s CERT program on the city’s website.

Berkeley's new permeable pavers on Allston Way. Photos by Nic Dominguez and EhEffAre
Berkeley’s new permeable pavers on Allston Way. Photos by Nic Dominguez and EhEffAre

Chakko said Thursday’s storm showed just how effective several “green” infrastructure items installed in Berkeley could be, from the new permeable pavers on Allston Way downtown, to a bioswale at Allston and California Street, and an underground cistern at Milvia and Eunice streets in North Berkeley.

The permeable pavers on Allston Way allow stormwater to filter down from the street to gravel below, before it enters pipes that connect to the city’s larger stormwater system. There are smaller permeable paver installations in parking strips on Hopkins Street and Eunice where they hit Milvia, he said.

As for the bioswale on Allston Way at California, on the surface it looks like a garden. Below, special soil slows down and filters stormwater to remove toxins before it hits the broader system. The cistern on Milvia works by tempering the flow of water to lessen the stress on the system.

“The whole point is to handle flooding,” he said. Of Thursday’s storm, he added: “It’s a moment where you can see their impact.”

Read more about those sustainable features on the city website.

The new rain garden filtering at Allston and California. Photo: Jonathan Walden
The bioswale at Allston and California. Photo: Jonathan Walden
The new rain garden filtering at Allston and California. Photo: Jonathan Walden
The bioswale at Allston and California. Photo: Jonathan Walden

At about 5 p.m., Chakko said much of the storm’s significant impacts seemed to have died down, but that the city is prepared to continue dealing with problems that arise.

“We’re ready for tonight, too, if it should get worse,” he said.

Berkeley Police Capt. Andrew Greenwood said he was not aware of any significant traffic accidents or public safety issues Thursday as a result of the storm. He said the roads had largely been clear, as many people seemed to be aware of potential hazards due to the weather and had stayed inside.

According to PG&E spokesman Joe Molica, as of 7 p.m., about 7,500 customers in Berkeley had been affected by power outages throughout the day Thursday. At that time, nearly 800 people were still without power in Berkeley, but the company hoped to restore it by 11 p.m.

Most of those problems were related to trees or branches coming down, which brought wires down with them, said Molica. He said “saturated soils and stressed trees” with weak roots — due to this year’s drought — had exacerbated the problem.

Molica said Berkeley had been less significantly impacted than other areas — on the North Coast, in San Francisco and on the Peninsula — but he described the storm as one of the strongest the Bay Area has seen since 2008, which had been a “very strong series” in itself. But he also noted that some areas of the East Bay saw hurricane force winds up to 70 mph Thursday.

Molica said that lighter showers are expected to continue Friday, and local residents may continue to see impacts from the storm, as the soil gets wetter and fragile tree roots weaken.

He said PG&E also wants to remind customers to stay away — and keep others away — from downed power lines, as they pose a significant safety risk. Those who see downed lines should call 911 and PG&E — at 800-743-5000 for help. (See preparedness tips from PG&E here.)

As of about 9:40 p.m., fewer than 500 people in Berkeley were still without power. See the outage map for details.

According to the National Weather Service, a “fast flood watch” is in effect until 4 a.m. Friday, and a flood advisory is in effect until 12:15 a.m. Learn more here.

And the daytime forecast from the NWS: “Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm before 5pm, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 5pm. Cloudy, with a high near 60. Light and variable wind becoming west 5 to 8 mph in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New rainfall amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch, except higher amounts possible in thunderstorms.”

[Correction: The photographs on Allston and California show a bioswale installed earlier this year, rather than a rain garden. The caption initially was incorrect.]

Related:
Storm update: Ashby expected to re-open at 10PM, power slated to come back by 11PM (12.10.14)
Woman, 31, struck by lightning in South Berkeley (03.31.14)
Lightning strikes Berkeley tree, sends wood chunks flying (03.31.14)
Hallelujah! Prepare for a wet weekend in Berkeley (02.07.14)
Berkeley residents assess damage caused by high winds (11.22.13)
Breaking: High winds wreak havoc around Berkeley (11.21.13)

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