Gay Desert Hot Springs

As cleanup, repairs, and damage assessment from Hilary begins, city officials, residents grateful storm wasn’t worse

Posted on August 22, 2023

Preparation by residents, city staff, and first responders was key to preventing major storm-related incidents. In other parts of the valley, however, the scene was quite different.

www.thepalmspringspost.com BY KENDALL BALCHAN ● PUBLIC SAFETY ● AUGUST 21, 2023

Click HERE to read story on original site.

Josh Aguirre and his son Frankie stopped to check out the rushing water at Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort Monday afternoon.

As skies cleared and stormwater receded Monday, Palm Springs residents were cleaning up and reflecting on what they went through as city officials began assessing the damage and their response. Overall, a sense of relief was being felt by many who knew other parts of the Coachella Valley were hit much harder as Tropical Storm Hilary passed through Sunday.

On Monday, the remnants from Hilary were stretching from Northern California to Arizona and all the way up through Montana and portions of Canada. With nothing but blue skies in the forecast here, it was hard for many to believe the desert was in a deluge just hours before.

But the ongoing road closures and piles of debris serve as a reminder that the recovery and cleanup efforts are far from over. 

A preliminary estimate done by AccuWeather, which included both direct and indirect impacts of the storm, placed damages throughout the western United States in the range of $5 billion to $9 billion.

“There (will) be tourism impacts that last for a time, especially in places like Palm Springs and some in the mountains,” a spokesperson wrote.

In Palm Springs, city officials are currently unable to estimate the total impact. They also cannot say when North Indian Canyon, Gene Autry Trail and Vista Chino will reopen, as the damage to those roads is still being assessed.

Overall, city leaders said they are pleased with its response to the storm – echoing the sentiment of many residents. There were no fatalities or serious injuries reported in Palm Springs and the city avoided evacuations of any neighborhoods.

“Palm Springs learned many lessons from the Valentine’s Day storm in 2019,” said Amy Blaisdell, communications director for the city. “[O]ur preemptive response was key to avoiding some of the life-threatening incidents of four years ago.” 

For example, a decision to shut down the three main arteries into the city that run through the wash before the rain hit may have proven to be a wise one. With fewer drivers navigating roads through the wash, emergency personnel dealt with fewer swift water rescues.

There are ongoing assessments of critical city infrastructure, but Blaisdell said, “So far we have not found irreparable damages on our major arteries.”

Construction crews kept a watchful eye on a retention basin being constructed by Riverside County near the Rimrock neighborhood, assuring neighbors they were standing by in case it got overrun. In the end, it worked just as planned. 

Residents react

For residents of the Safari Mobile Home Park, whose homes are often threatened with storm water, Sunday’s event was very different from those in years past. A September 2017 flash flood wreaked havoc on their Rimrock neighborhood, which sits close to the base of the San Jacinto mountains. It was deluged again when the 2019 storm struck

“There was water rushing into homes and three feet of mud,” said Carlene Hart, a resident of the park and chair of the Rimrock Neighborhood Organization, recalling the 2017 storm. “A neighbor and I tried to keep people away from huge boulders, rattlesnakes and glass that had come sliding down the mountain.”

Since that storm, she said, Riverside County began working on a long-delayed flood retention basin project nearby. Construction began last August, and though it isn’t complete, she said the basin made all the difference during this storm. 

“It was great, the water went where it was supposed to go,” she said. As the storm approached, Hart spoke with the workers from Sukut Construction who are working on the project. She felt reassured and said she was able to rest easy at night.

Further adding to her comfort level, Hart said the work crews communicated with her and said they had equipment and trucks at the ready and contingencies in place in case the flooding overwhelmed the still incomplete basin. 

As stormwater rushed through the drain underneath Golf Club Drive Monday afternoon, Josh Aguirre stopped his car at the side of the road and ventured onto Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort with his 4-year-old son, Frankie, for pictures. He described Sunday’s storm in one word: “Crazy.”

Mud and water can be seen across North Indian Canyon Drive Monday afternoon in this drone image. City officials are still assessing when the roadway might reopen.

Aguirre, who lives off East Palm Canyon Drive, was in Palm Springs during the 2019 Valentine’s Day storm, considered the worst weather event in recent city history after dumping 3.7 inches of rain in a matter of hours. He said he was surprised Sunday’s storm was similar.

“I didn’t think it would be this bad, actually,” he said while explaining the circuitous route he had to travel to get back to his home from out of town Sunday afternoon. “The water was up to the engine of my car.”

Across the valley

With fewer than expected urgent issue in Palm Springs, emergency personnel here were able to help neighboring cities that saw more destruction. In Cathedral City, residents were trapped in a neighborhood that was buried in up to five feet of mud. The California National Guard was on hand to help Monday afternoon.

Cathedral City Police confirmed they performed 46 rescues over about 18 hours, including the rescue of 14 seniors who were trapped in a care home. The police department there said during a news conference Monday afternoon they also dealt with active gas leaks, sinkholes, and trapped cars.

A portion of the base of a Palm Springs International Airport sign was lifted out of the ground during Sunday’s intense storm. (Photo: Barkley Dean)

In Indio, several neighborhoods and major roads were flooded, including Avenue 44 at the wash, which was completely destroyed. Further east, the nonprofit group TODEC helped coordinate transportation for several families in Thermal and Mecca, according to the “Los Angeles Times.” The group received more than 2,000 calls to its hotline, many from farmworkers anxious to return to work.

Over the weekend, Palm Springs and Indio both declared states of emergency and on Monday, Riverside County proclaimed its own local emergency, which could help make the county eligible for federal and state assistance. 

In the lead-up to the storm, residents in Palm Springs were there for each other. 

“I was grateful that people were helping each other out with sandbags and everything else,” said Hart. With cleanup efforts underway, she said, neighbors will once again be helping neighbors.

Author

KENDALL BALCHAN

Kendall was born and raised in the Coachella Valley and brings deep local knowledge and context to every story. Before joining The Post she spent three years as a producer and investigative reporter at NBC Palm Springs. She attended both College of the Desert and the University of Oregon.