By Barbara Wood
Samantha Benavides, a 17-year-old San Jose resident, was about to leave home for school on Feb. 21 when she saw that her Rock Springs neighborhood street was covered with water and "street closed" signs had been posted. But it was the sight of a nearby car, with a child inside, stalled in the flooded street that kept her from leaving.
After that, "the water came up really fast," Benavides says.
Within minutes, firefighters were knocking on neighborhood doors. "You have five minutes, pack your things," she recalls them saying. Benavides and other members of her family of eight were evacuated from their apartment building on a boat.
The family ended up in a Red Cross shelter, first at James Lick and later at Seven Trees Community Center.
Although the family lived on the second floor of their building and they lost only possessions stored in a garage, including all the family's vehicles, they will not be able to move back into their home of five years. "They're going to tear it down," Benavides says.
Her father lost his job because, with the family's cars all inoperable, he couldn't get to work. But he has now been offered a new job in construction and given the tools and clothing he needs to work, his daughter says.
But the search for replacement housing has been frustrating, Benavides says, partly because new landlords don't want to allow eight people to live in a two-bedroom apartment. "Everything is too expensive," she adds.
While Benavides and her family are appreciative of the Red Cross shelter, not having their home to live in has been difficult. "All of us in the family got sick," she says about the days following the flooding. Her year-old nephew, she adds, ended up in the emergency room three times and the entire family suffered from respiratory and stomach illnesses.
Benavides, a senior at Apollo High in San Jose, says she has missed only two days of school since the flood — the days when she was sick.
She's grateful to the Red Cross not only for providing accommodations in the shelter, but for helping her family with their medical problems and other needs.
On March 5, residents of the Seven Trees shelter learned that the Red Cross would be transitioning operation of the shelter over to the City of San Jose and Home First. "Hopefully everyone in the shelter can move on — find somewhere safe, somewhere stable," Benavides says.
"I'm not giving up," she adds. "I'm trying my best to focus on my family."
After graduating from high school in June, Samantha says she hopes to attend a four-year college and study nursing. Two Red Cross Disaster Health Services volunteers, both retired nursing instructors volunteering at the shelter, gave Benavides one other bit of support — they gave her advice about finding the right school.