SAN JOSE (BCN)— San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo promised to hold a public hearing to address communication issues that led to over 350 people having to be rescued by firefighters from their flooded homes on Tuesday.
"The bureaucratic finger-pointing stops today," Liccardo said at a news conference this morning. "This happened in my city. I am responsible. I don't care what any bureaucracy or any other agency believed they did or didn't do. It happened in our city. We are responsible."
Liccardo, Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and five members of City Council were at Fire Station 34, the base for the fire department's Urban Search and Rescue Team, bringing coffee and donuts and formally thanking first responders who led the rescue operation.
"Our firefighters saved more than 350 residents in peril without any serious injury, without any loss of life," Liccardo said. "This was exceptional work by dozens of firefighters working multiple shifts with very little sleep."
"We were able to take 20 people at a time out. The youngest were newborns. The oldest were pushing 100 years old," International Association of Fire Fighters Local 230 president Sean Kaldor said at the conference.
"Multiple people were taken from wheelchairs into these boats. We had the physically disabled, the learning disabled, and cats, and dogs, and birds and entire households crammed into these boats," Kaldor said.
Other response help came from San Jose police, Cal Fire, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office and fire department, the city and county offices of emergency services, the Red Cross and volunteers, fire Chief Curtis Jacobson said.
Fire Station 34 staffs eight firefighters who respond to 3,000 calls a year, Kaldor said. Fifty San Jose firefighters are trained for in-water rescue.
"For this storm, we had 16 trained swift water rescue personnel on duty, and even after those personnel had conducted hundreds of rescues over 48 hours, we held them for another 24 hours so that we had increased our capability to 32 trained rescuers," Kaldor said.
Dozens of other firefighters notified residents, performed decontamination and provided medical care.
The Santa Clara County sheriff's dive team and the Santa Clara County Fire Department's Urban Search and Rescue team, as well as a Cal Fire helicopter crew provided further assistance, Kaldor said.
On Tuesday morning, firefighters rescued a number of people who woke up to find that their homeless encampment had turned into an island.
"We evacuated homeless who were clinging to trees, literally stubs of trees, where they had in shopping bags their only belongings," Kaldor said. "The water was steadily growing to their waist and would have submerged them shortly," Kaldor said.
Urban search and rescue specialist Paulo Brito estimated that he personally rescued between 60 and 70 people.
The 17-foot metal jon boats, which the fire department obtained through a federal grant in October are only built to carry six people, but Brito said crews were forced to fit 10 or 15 people on each.
"It's all we had, and we had to get the people out," Brito said.
In many cases, a language barrier posed another issue during the rescue, Brito said. The Rock Springs neighborhood, one of the more affected areas, is about 80 percent Vietnamese-speaking, according to the office of
Councilman Tam Nguyen.
Seeing people leave their homes, cars and belongings behind, knowing they had lost everything in several feet of gasoline- and raw sewage-contaminated waters, was the most difficult part of the operation,
Arroyo Way was cleared for reentry by this afternoon. About 3,060 residents in 765 homes, down from 1,080 on Thursday, are still evacuated, according to city spokesman David Vossbrink.
James Lick High School sheltered 114 people Thursday night. Nineteen others stayed at Evergreen High School, Vossbrink said.
A local assistance center will open its doors at Shirakawa Community Center, at 2072 Lucretia Ave., at 9 a.m. Saturday and will be open until 4 p.m. weekends. Weekday hours will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The center will serve all affected residents, homeowners and business owners, in several languages and regardless of immigration status, through March 4, city officials said.