Manteca will have it in the bag - the sandbag that is - when the next levee break occurs on the San Joaquin or Stanislaus rivers.
That’s because a small army of citizen volunteers have been trained in the art of the correct filling of sandbags.
“Do it the right away and you’ll fill more sandbags,” said Manteca Fire Battalion Chief Randy May. “Fill it the wrong way and they’ll be more injuries.”
May and others helped instruct volunteers from Manteca and Tracy on Saturday on the proper way to fill sandbags. It touched not only on the safety aspect but why bags filled the right way and then deployed in an interlocking manner and not simply stacked are the best way to hold back flood waters.
“When you see sandbags simply stacked against a wall on TV (during flood coverage) they are doing absolutely no good,” May noted.
Those trained so far in two sessions include members of the Community Emergency Response Team and Seniors Aiding Fire Effort who would be called on in the event of a flood to train other volunteers on how to fill and place sandbags. May noted that way there would be adequate numbers to help deal with potential problems until re-enforcements arrive.
Those re-enforcements in the 1997 floods that inundated 70 square miles between Manteca and Tracy were in the form of California Conservation Corps crews, Cal Fire personnel and prison inmate work crews. They didn’t have adequate numbers, though, until two days after the break. That is why community volunteers are key to helping keep flood waters in place.
The training session organized by Katie Reed of the Manteca Public Works Department also included ham radio operators.
The hobbyists played a critical role in the 1997 floods to relay information as phone circuits became overloaded and emergency frequencies were crowded.
May noted that many area residents are complacent when it comes to flooding.
“It’s been almost 15 years since the 1997 floods,” said May who noted there was a small levee break in 2004 that was quickly stopped. “There were boils (the term for water bubbling through a levee that is the precursor to a potential) in levees along the Stanislaus last year.”
Flooding historically happens not just in wet weather but under sunny skies and as often as late May since the problem is primarily run-off from Sierra snow melt being contained by levees that are well over 120 years old.
“All it takes to start things is a squirrel (burrowing), May say.