Author: Willy Blackmore      Published: 2/2/2024      Word In Black

Climate change makes these deluges regular occurrences. After San Diego’s recent flooding, the Reed family is trying to pick up the pieces.

The Reed family — AubreyRosie, 14; Krystle, 39; KayCee, 7; Donald Jr., 43; and Donald III, 17 — lost everything in the unprecedented flooding that hit San Diego in late January.

No one was expecting that much rain. When more than three inches fell on San Diego in just six hours, it took the Southern California city by surprise. It was a Monday, people were at work and at school, and the only reason that Krystle Reed knew that the very unexpected was happening back at her house in the hilly Encanto neighborhood was because her in-laws, who have been living with the Reeds, were at home.

As the rain fell and ran down the hill, the storm drains on their street were overwhelmed and started to back up. The drain in her neighborhood’s yard collapsed into a yawning sinkhole, and water began to fill that yard and then hers too — and kept filling and filling until the Reeds’ home was brimming with at least four feet of water.

The deluge is said to have been a thousand-year storm, but thanks to climate change, we’re seeing more and more of these improbable rainfall events happening far more than every century or millennia. Flooding is becoming almost routine in New York City, where over 7 inches of rain fell in parts of Brooklyn during a September storm last year. Chicago was also hit with 9 inches of rain in some areas last July. Flooding from such major storms can affect any kind of neighborhood, but research shows that certain urban neighborhoods tend to get more flooding than others: the areas where Black people like the Reeds and many other Encanto residents live.

Her husband, Donald Reed Jr., a school bus driver, rushed back from work and was able to rescue the family’s four dogs. But many of their belongings were ruined — laptops, phones, and other technology. “PS5 isn’t cheap,” she says. Family photos and other items of great emotional value were lost, too, though thankfully, the urn that holds her late mother’s ashes was on a high shelf. Two of the family’s cars were parked on the street, and are now inoperable due to the floodwater.

“My brother lives with us, my sister-in-law was living with her parents,” she says, and the Reeds have three kids, too, ranging from 7 to 17-years-old. “Nine people overall who are trying to figure out and shuffling where they can go.”

And because the house is not in a flood zone, the only coverage for water damage they have is through their homeowner’s policy, and only applies to things like a burst pipe or a leaking roof. (Flood insurance is its own federally subsidized program, and most people who do not live in a flood zone do not purchase flood insurance.) There are parts of Encanto that are in the flood zone of the Chollas Creek, a channelized waterway that braids through the neighborhood, but the Reeds’ home isn’t even on the edge of one of those areas.

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The family bought the house in 2020, their first home, and just before real estate prices began to skyrocket. It has four bedrooms, and a yard so large they were considering building an ADU that Krystle’s in-laws could move into instead of continuing to stay in the family’s RV (the in-laws lost their own house, which they had lived in for years and had paid off, to a title-theft scheme). Elsewhere in the neighborhood, you might find chickens or even goats grazing on the large lots.

Encanto is one of the most diverse parts of San Diego, and while it’s not as Black as other neighborhoods in the southeastern parts of the city, like neighboring Valencia Park, it’s more Black (17.5%) than the city on the whole (6.6%). As is often the case in urban Black neighborhoods, that was originally by nefarious design: much of Encanto was redlined in the 1930s along with much of the rest of southeast San Diego, and was one of the first parts of the city where Black and Latinx residents were allowed to buy property.

While the redline maps from the 1930s don’t cite any flood risks, the area has been subject to major flooding in the past: for example, in 1916, decades before Cholla Creek was channelized for flood-control purposes, a small creek in the neighborhood burst its banks, forming a 100-foot-wide lake. But unless you’re living right alongside Cholla Creek, flooding wasn’t exactly top of mind for most people in Encanto before this storm hit. It certainly wasn’t for the Reeds.

“It wasn’t on our radar, not a flood,” Reed says. “You’re at the bottom of a hill, so you’d expect water to hit your car to an extent,” but that’s about it.

Now, the extended Reed family is bouncing between extended family and hotels the city has provided vouchers for. They got a contractor in to rip out the floor and five feet of drywall throughout the house, above the high water mark, to try and avoid a major mold problem. But with no insurance money, and nothing yet from FEMA  despite there being a federal emergency declaration, it’s unclear how they’re going to get their house back into habitable condition. The Reeds have raised a little over $6,600 through a GoFundMe — but the cost of tearing out the floor and walls alone costs $6,500.

“We were able to afford that based off of our GoFundMe, but I don’t know how we’re going to get a new floor, new cabinets, and everything else,” she says. The city came and cleaned the rocks and mud off of the street, but it hasn’t done much beyond that in terms of helping rebuild.

Unfortunately, there’s more rain — possibly much, much more rain — heading for Southern California. Which means San Diego could get hit badly again over the next few days, while people like the Reeds are still trying to recover from January’s record-breaking storm.

If there’s going to be another flood, Reed would rather it be sooner than later. “At this point, if it’s going to happen I’d rather it just happen now,” she says. “It can’t get no worse.”