Mark McClure

Mark McClure’s father, James Lee McClure, began his 20-year career in the U.S. Air Force in 1952, just 4 years after President Truman desegregated the U.S. military. While formally desegregated, the military subjected African Americans to the poorest living and working conditions and the slowest promotions.

Mark’s parents, James and Joyce, were children of the Post- Depression, Jim Crow Era South, were frequently separated when he was sent abroad for maneuvers and training purposes. James wrote letters home often, telling the family what life was like in other places, how he was doing, how much he missed his family, reminding his children to “mind our mother.” Joyce kept all of those letters, and they became a family treasure. 

When James retired from the Air Force, the McClures settled in Mountain View, where James began second career at Stanford Medical Center. The McClures were the first generation of the family to grow up outside of the scourge of segregation. Mark McClure died from heart disease at the age of 44 in 1977, just five years into his military retirement.  He was buried with full military honors.  

In 2014, Joyce McClure had to move to a senior assisted living facility near Mark’s home in San José. The family home was cleaned out, with vital family documents entrusted to Mark for safekeeping. He placed the box of his dad’s letters inside a plastic bin on a high shelf in his storage shed. 

When the flood raged through Mark’s back yard, it damaged tools, musical instruments and other things of value. But most horrifying, the shelf in the shed fell over, the bin popped open, and the box of family letters was submerged and inundated. The letters entrusted to Mark to keep safe disintegrated into a pulp.

These letters were an irreplaceable record of James McClure’s distinguished military career. The letters chronicled a unique point in race relations in this country, and the rise of an African American family from the Depression to middle-class living. These are letters vital to the nation’s history. Mark was entrusted to keep them safe for future generations of family, or perhaps to donate to a museum’s historical collection. These options, and this history, are lost forever.

Lavelle Family

Cat Lavelle went for a run at 5:30 am, February 21. She noticed Coyote Creek, a few blocks from her house, was high but thought there was no way it could reach the 30 foot banks. Later that afternoon, Cat, five months pregnant, decided to take her two young children to look at the creek. As they were leaving the house, she saw water rushing in the street gutters. A helicopter flew overhead, and a voice over the loud speaker announced it was time to evacuate. She texted her husband, Brendan, and took the kids to his parents’ house.

Brendan Lavelle was at Stanford Hospital with his mother who had just been diagnosed with Leukemia. Brendan left his mom at the hospital, and came home at 5 pm; water completely covered the street and some driveways. When he returned that night, the entire yard was underwater and the basement was filling rapidly. Brendan made some frantic attempts to salvage more family belongings until firefighters in a boat ordered him to evacuate.At 10:30 pm and 2:00 am he received evacuation orders via text –too late.

The Lavelles remained evacuated for weeks. Brendan had to take time off work pump out water, remove debris, sort through destroyed belongings, demolish damaged parts of the house, and try to remediate the mold. Meanwhile, Brendan’s mother was suffering: her chemotherapy sapping her strength and impairing her cognition. One month later, his mother succumbed to cancer. Brendan explains, “the flood struck just when I most wanted and needed to be with her and support her… Because of the flood and its aftermath I was unable to give my mother the attention and support she deserved.”

Lopez Family

On February morning, 2017, Armando and Sandra Lopez and their adult daughter Samantha left the family apartment for work, leaving behind 12 year old Esmeralda with her grandfather who was visiting from Mexico. As Samantha left, she noticed water in the streets, but felt assured by the presence of police and water district officials at the corner.

At 11am, Esmerelda started texting Samantha, worried about the rising water. San José firefighters rescued Esmerelda and her grandfather a few hours later, and they went to the house of friends, where Samantha, Sandra and Armando met them after work. That night, the family waited anxiously as Armando Lopez disappeared to brave the flood to retrieve his life savings and secure the family’s abandoned apartment. He had to give up, unable to navigate chest-high dirty waters in the dark.

The family stayed with friends for three months. Armando spent hours every day demolishing and replacing the sheet rock and flooring in the first floor of the apartment. When family returned, they had to throw away destroyed family photographs, personal documents, and ruined electronics.   

The emotional and physical toll of the flood lingers for the Lopez family. Esmerelda had nightmares of the flooding for many months. Samantha’s Lupus was exacerbated by the stress of not knowing what would happen to her family. She endured intense pain in her neck and shoulders and went without medicine for days. Samantha remains in disbelief that with three different agencies, not one person was able to perform their duties assigned as to prevent so much loss. Esmerelda and Samantha watched their parents lose everything and suffer the indignity of their lifetime of hard work vanish in one night. 

Dulce Mata

Dulce Mata and Saul Guzman lived in Rock Springs with their three children, including a newborn. The sudden flooding of the neighborhood and the evacuation process were terrifying for the children. The family’s car flooded, and they lost items stored in the garage, including a new baby crib and many family mementos. The family stayed at the James Lick High School gymnasium for two weeks and then moved to Seven Trees shelter, where they stayed for a month. Hundreds of people crowded the shelters, sleeping in close proximity to each other including countless sick people coughing and sneezing. Guards treated evacuees with disrespect and women were frequently sexually harassed. Nobody dared to speak up since at least they had roofs over our heads. 

When Dulce noticed a sore on her newborn’s tongue, she took him to the county clinic. The doctor recommended she transfer to a place with fewer sick people, so even though it meant being separated from Saul and the other two children, Dulce moved to Casa Linda Motel on Monterey Road. Shortly after she arrived, a stranger approached her, soliciting sex. Scared and horrified, Dulce realized that the City and the agencies responsible for the housing of flood victims sent a mother and a two month old baby to live where prostitution took place openly. Dulce returned to Seven Trees, risking her baby’s health. 

The family was relocated, but their future remained uncertain. At first they were told they could stay until September, then July.  Afterwards, they were relocated to housing, that was temporary, with a shifting deadline to move. The family’s stress of finding a new home is magnified by the shortage of affordable housing in San José.

Teresa Pedrizco

On that February day, Teresa Pedrizco remembers going about her business just like any other day of the week, running errands. Her mother called to let her know that her neighbor that the street one over was flooding. Teresa came home, arriving to disaster and chaos. They put things up high, and grabbed a blanket or two. The water was rising fast, the cars were getting covered. The children were crying uncontrollably as the water was rising. They left in the afternoon when the street was almost completely covered with water. Teresa worried that if she stayed longer, they would risk the kid’s lives. 

Today, Teresa recalls disbelief and anger that the government failed to let families know what was happening, or alert communities downstream on time. Teresa’s family is still waiting to receive money to do the repairs. The Pedrizco were required to have flood insurance, but it didn’t cover the damages. The FEMA inspector ruled the damage was less than the $5000 deductible. Teresa still hasn’t been able to find a general contractor to repair the foundation alone for less than $5000. 

The flood was very stressful for the Pedrizcos— the escape from the flood brought repeated nightmares. The rebuilding required Teresa to put her career on hold. She was studying to take the California Bar exam in July 2017, but had to postpone those plans to rebuild. She recalls intense emotional stress due to financial hardship, as well as frustration with government unwillingness to protect its citizens. Teresa passed the bar exam two years later, and will continue to fight for herself and other victims of government negligence.