Floods washed out all roads into the Monterey Peninsula on Sunday as waterlogged California struggled to recover from storms that battered two-thirds of the state.
At least 12 people have died in five days of flooding, and crews were trying to get to one of four cars that drove into a rain-swollen creek when an Interstate 5 bridge collapsed in central California.
Late Sunday, a car was found buried in mud about a mile from the collapsed bridge, California Highway Patrol Officer Karen Barrows said.
Search teams extracted the body of a 10-yearold girl and a woman, and were trying to get to two more bodies in the car, Barrows said.
Crews were not able to get to another car farther downstream.
“It is still completely submerged. We haven’t been able to confirm what kind of vehicle it is or how many occupants,” Barrows said.
Earlier in the day, relatives dug the body of an 18-year-old woman out of another car, authorities said.
Sunday was rain-free for most of California. The National Weather Service said showers were expected again today, but not the downpours of last week.
President Clinton declared 39 counties disaster areas. The declaration, prompted by an appeal by Gov. Pete Wilson, allows residents and businesses from Humboldt to San Diego counties to apply for federal aid.
In Monterey County, thousands of people left their homes overnight as the Salinas and Pajaro rivers inundated some of the nation’s richest farmlands, the site of many John Steinbeck novels.
The flooding cut off the communities around Monterey, about 100 miles south of San Francisco.
“At this point all roads are closed - the Monterey Peninsula is literally isolated,” said county emergency Officer Al Friedrich.
California Highway Patrol officials said roads may remain closed until today.
More than 7,000 people were evacuated Sunday night from the nearby towns of Castroville and Moss Landing because the flood waters were causing raw sewage to back up and flow into the streets, said state Office of Emergency Services spokesman Bob McElroy.
Many people had been rousted from their homes early Sunday as floodwaters rushed into low-lying riverside communities overnight.
“Police went down the streets with their sirens telling people to please leave,” Friedrich said. “It’s a scary thing to hear in the dark.”
In the farming town of Pajaro, residents were in shock.
“People walked in here in tears. They looked like they were caught completely off-guard,” said Salvation Army Maj. Joan Souders. “We saw people walk in here with no shoes, no socks or with water lines up to their thighs.”
From the Oregon state line down to Mexico, rain, wind and snow wreaked havoc across 40 of California’s 58 counties.
“It’s the most widespread geographic storm in California in this century,” said James Bailey of the state-federal Flood Operations Center in Sacramento.
The storms may also be the most expensive in California history, he added, costing up to $2 billion in a state already burdened with January’s Pacific storms, as well as a series of earthquakes, fires and mudslides.
In Coalinga, teams were back at the scene of a fatal I-5 road bridge collapse on California’s main north-south freeway.
Four cars drove into a rain-swollen creek Friday night when the overpass suddenly dropped into the water. Transportation officials believe floodwater and its debris undermined the bridge.
The bodies of two newborn girls with umbilical cords still attached were found washed onto Orange County beaches about 10 miles apart.
One was found early Sunday; the other Saturday. They had been in the water several days, police said. It was unclear how they died or if they were put in a storm drain, a river, directly into the ocean or got there by some other means.