The Monterey County Herald, Friday, September 19, 2003
Monterey County Local State
AN INDOOR ISABEL
PROBATION ASSESSES FLOOD DAMAGE
By Virginia Hennessey
Monterey County probation workers have some special sympathy for the storm-ravaged folks on the Atlantic Coast after a flash flood swept through their building Wednesday.
“It was like Isabel in the Probation Department,” Margaret Mudd, assistant Probation Department chief, said of the river of water that first came whooshing down the hall toward her office and then seeped through the floor to rain down on expensive copiers, computers and files on the first floor of the Natividad Road building in Salinas.
Surprisingly upbeat workers labored Thursday to put back the pieces after a water main break inundated the operation. Thousands of files that were intermingled in the frantic rush to scoop them out of harm’s way had to be laid out, page by page, to dry and then be reassembled.
Dozens of waterlogged computers were being dried out at the county’s information technology department on Moffett Drive. There was no electricity in parts of the building, and no Internet access or e-mail anywhere. Several units of the department had to be moved off site, including the finance department, which was struggling to move records to the Monterey probation office so it could meet today’s deadline for payroll.
Juvenile court operations were moved to the Salinas courthouse on Church Street and will remain there today.
“It’s a nightmare,” Mudd said. “I’m praying that old adage about bad things coming in threes is not true because the last couple of things have been pretty hard.”
Duane Tanner, Chief of probation, was in Sacramento on Thursday to meet with the Board of Corrections concerning the department’s last crisis, the discovery of earthquake damage that has closed most of Juvenile Hall.
Probation’s latest disaster happened about noon Wednesday when a facilities employee was trying to fix a leaking toilet in the second-floor men’s restroom. Facilities Manager Ross Richards said the worker loosened the water valve, planning to then tighten it down. Instead the rusty, corroded valve blew off, spewing water with the force of a fire hydrant into the bathroom and out into the hall.
Mudd was in her office a few doors down when she heard a whooshing noise and then finance department staff members yelling to get the computer server off the floor. Peeking out her door she said, she saw a flash flood sweeping down the hallway.
“It was like being chased,” finance worker Mikki Arnold said of the inches of water that quickly flooded her office. The deluge didn’t stop there. Within minutes, water started seeping through the floor and showering down on the first-floor offices.
“We started grabbing everything to get it out of the way of the water that was cascading down,” Mudd said. “It was like a waterfall. Only two county workers possess the key to turn off the main water valve for the building. It took the first one 15 minutes to get to the probation office from across town as water, powered by 60 pounds of pressure, continued to spew from the 1 ¼-inch pipe.
By the time the water was turned off, many of the ceiling tiles on the first floor had turned to mush on the floor and probably officers were pouring water out of their laptop computers.
“ I’ve never in my 30 years of experience seen that much water in a building,” said Richards.
Manuel Real, director of the juvenile probation division, said it is unknown whether any of the waterlogged computers and copiers can be saved. Files that were destroyed can be recreated from the department’s databases and court records. Mudd and Real praised the rescue and cleanup efforts of their staff, as well as the work of Disaster Kleenup Specialists, which worked through the night to dry the building and ward off mold.
On Thursday the building was noisy and smelly. Hallways were lined with dozens of large blue fans and dehumidifiers powered by a web of electrical cords running from areas of the building that had been cleared for electricity by an electrician.
Mudd said electricity in much of the building was shut off because the wiring is now “suspect.” She’s been told the county may need to remove 12 inches of Sheetrock from the bottom of the walls to prevent mold. And it will be weeks, if not months, before the county is given an estimate on how much it will cost to repair the building and replace destroyed equipment.
Through it all, Mudd kept her sense of humor. “We’re trying now to sort everything out,” she said. “People will never get their same keyboard back. I feel sorry for the people who had a particular mouse they liked. They’re never going to see that one again.”