By Virginia Becker, Red Cross volunteer
Shirley Reclusada wasn't quite certain what was happening when her husband Roy awakened her at 2 a.m. on a stormy January morning. But the drowsy haze that enveloped her husband's words — that water had entered their Lovers Lane home in Hollister — immediately lifted when Shirley stood up in their bedroom.
Out of bed, she found herself ankle-deep in water from nearby Pacheco Creek, which was spilling its banks after four straight days of heavy rain.
A quick inspection of their home confirmed the couple's worst fears: The floodwaters were not confined to just one part of the residence. Every room in the couple's home was filling with water — and the water was still rising.
"I thought I could let water out of the home by opening the front door," Shirley recalled. "Instead of water going out, more water came rushing in."
As her real-life nightmare unfolded, Shirley Reclusada saw the full extent of the family's plight when she turned on the front-porch light: "I was shocked when I saw the porch furniture partly underwater."
By this time, all five of the couple's children were awake. “We all gathered up as much as we could and put it in garbage bags,” Shirley recalls. And — smartly — their 19-year-old daughter, Sheila, did what people in crisis sometimes forget to do: She called 9-1-1.
As it turns out, Sheila's call was the first received by the emergency dispatch operator, and the timeliness of it helped get local fire personnel and first responders on the scene that much sooner to help the Reclusadas and their similarly threatened neighbors.
Although the dispatcher had asked the Reclusadas to stay where they were so that a rescue crew could find them, the family quickly realized that rising floodwaters weren't going to wait. So they climbed out of the living room window, braved the floodwaters to safely reach a family vehicle, and drove to a high point near a nearby bridge. Sheila called 9-1-1 again to inform emergency personnel of the family's new location.
By that time, first responders were arriving — and it didn't take them long to realize they needed to evacuate everyone inside the 50 or so homes on Lovers Lane.
Within an hour, the American Red Cross — which had been alerted to the disaster by Hollister Fire Department — had a shelter open at the Veteran's Memorial Building on San Benito Street in downtown Hollister. The Reclusadas were among 34 people the shelter accommodated in the early morning hours of January 11.
While emergency shelters obviously don't have all of the comforts of home, the Reclusadas weren't complaining. The snacks, water, coffee, and cots that were ready for them that first night were a welcome sight indeed, as were the meals served there the next day. "We are all very grateful for the help that the Red Cross provided to us and others," Shirley says.
The Reclusadas and other families needing the help were all able to find short-term accommodations in other housing by late Thursday, enabling the Red Cross to place on stand-by a shelter that — at least for one cold and wet evening — had provided critical support to the Reclusada family and many of their Lovers Lane neighbors.
About the photos: Red Cross volunteer Virginia Becker, left, wades through a flooded street in Hollister; the Reclusada family, right, gathers at the Red Cross shelter following their early-morning escape from their flood-filled home near Pacheco Creek. (Photos by: Albert Becker and Virginia Becker)