Imperial Valley Flood of 1976
Keep checking back for updates as this section
of the website is still currently under construction.
SAN DIEGO UNION ARTICLES ARE BELOW.
These events actually happened. When I
search around the internet for information on
this subject, sadly I find very little. This is
probably because most people have
forgotten about this event except maybe
meteorologists and railroad enthusiasts. I
guess I'll start at the beginning here. I was
raised on a 600 acre ranch in Imperial
Valley, California in the early 1970s.
Imperial Valley is basically below sea-level
desert country. This (of course) means that
if there is any heavy rainfall in the surrounding
mountain areas, a flash flood will race across
the desert floor. When I was a young child,
my family and I suddenly had to leave
Imperial Valley in 1976 after a huge storm hit
southern California. The storm was the last
storm at full tropical strength to hit Southern
California. On the night of September 9th,
1976, Hurricane Kathleen hit southern
California and dropped approximately a foot
of water in the San Diego mountains
overnight. The storm was mostly listed
as a tropical storm but wind gusts did
hit 70-80 knots at approximately 11pm
on 9/9/1976 (source: San Diego Union,
9/11/1976, A-2). As usual, on the next
morning, September 10th, 1976, I went
out with my dad to watch him run the ranch.
Ironically, it was a sunny morning because
the storm had passed for the most part,
I distinctly recall that. That morning we
kept noticing some sunlight reflecting off
the San Diego mountains out towards the
west (it was like a "sparkle"). My dad
thought it was peculiar and said it "looks
like water" and we listened to the radio
shortly thereafter and heard the flash flood
warnings. My mom was scared and pretty
insistent that we vacate the ranch and we
did. We returned to find out the next
morning that a wall of water approximately
10 feet high swept across the Imperial Valley
desert floor, wiping out the town of Ocotillo
and killing some motorists who were
unfortunate enough to be on Interstate 8 at
the time the water came through. When we
returned to our ranch, it was under 3 feet of
water and my dad's crops were ruined. It
was due to this catastrophic incident that we
sold our ranch and moved to the San Diego
area. So much for my country roots.
When will the next hurricane come through
California again? Meteorologists say that a
storm of this magnitude comes through
California every 25-50 years. Imperial
Valley should be ready when it does.
The town of Ocotillo sits on a alluvial
fan which is basically a point where water
is channeled from ridges, channels,
gorges, valleys, etc, into a single point.
Basically the town of Ocotillo is in the same
location it was when this disaster happened
and the same unfortunate events can
happen again, it's possible.
(above) A picture from 1976 of my dad's ranch taken the summer before
the flood. In the center of the picture you see an irrigation ditch. To the
upper left of that is Mount Signal. On the right hand side of this picture,
on the horizon, behind the 6 trees grouped together, somewhat dimmed
by the haze, is the San Diego mountains on the horizon. The San Diego
mountains is where the flood waters came racing down from into Imperial
Valley. The picture below shows a similar view. I have some better
pictures of those mountains and will post them to this website as I find
I have some actual flood pictures of my dad's
ranch under water. I will post those to this
website as I find them.
Above: Looking out south towards Mount Signal
Above: dirt road leading out east of ranch towards West Side Main Canal
NEWLY UPDATED WITH
SAN DIEGO UNION
ARTICLES AND PHOTOS!
Above: Aerial View of Hurricane
Kathleen's flood devastation
Featured below are some
articles from the San Diego
Union, September, 1976.
Some of the photos are a bit
cheesy in quality due to the
lousy nature of the
Downtown San Diego
library's microfilm quality
and the antiquity of their
There are lots of scratches
both on the original film
and on the glass of the
machines. I hope my
efforts and long hours
spent in that library
printing up articles,
typing them up on this
website, blood, sweat
and tears are worth the
sacrifice to assist you in
your research. Donations,
are, of course, appreciated. :)
Please do bear in mind as you
read the articles that they are
in chronological order starting
with the day right after the
flood (9/11/76) onward so the
death toll rises and statistics
on flood water wall height,
damages and other figures
increase over time as you
read the articles downward.
So please keep that in mind.
POST DISASTER ARTICLES
Article 1 from Saturday, September 11, 1976
Article below is from front page (A-1):
"Fierce Storm Lashes Area; Imperial Valley Inundated"
"At Least Two Die* In Floods"
Page of pictures -- A-3
By CLIFF SMITH
Staff Writer, The San Diego Union
Article Date: Saturday September 11, 1976
Tropical storm Kathleen ripped through Southern California yesterday, killing at least two persons as it spread water over virtually the entire
Imperial Valley and adjoining deserts.
A wall of water at least four feet high** and 100 yards wide crashed through Ocotillo, a desert town of about 600 persons file miles east of the
San Diego County line, destroying about a third of the buildings and claiming two lives.
Another unconfirmed report was that a third person drowned in El Centro when most of Imperial County and its 14 cities were inundated
with water starting early yesterday and continuing through midday.
Although clearing skies were expected here this afternoon, transportation remained paralyzed last night with scores of main roads and
hundreds of Imperial Valley streets torn up or flooded by the deluge, Interstate 8 was washed out west of Ocotillo and the California
Department of Transportation estimated it will be at least a week before the freeway is reopened with a detour. Motorists were advised
to use the interstate via Riverside and Blythe.
A torrent of water ripped through the Carrizo Gorge north and east of Jacumba to destroy portions of three bridges supporting the San Diego
and Arizona Eastern Railway.
* = death toll was later confirmed to be much higher (13 people)
** = water height of wall was later confirmed to be 10 feet.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AFTER PICTURE...
A spokesman said two trains, one eastbound from San Diego and another westbound from Yuma, were turned back after the flood and
that it would be at least two weeks before rail service on the line is restored.
The storm dumped up to 9.52 inches of rain in the San Diego County mountains, the high figure being measured at Mt. Laguna. Lindbergh
Field recorded .76 of an inch in 24 hours, the heaviest September rain since 1963.
The populous western portion of San Diego County escaped serious flooding although some crops, particularly tomatoes, may have been
damaged. The San Diego Padres-Houston Astros baseball doubleheader scheduled last night in San Diego Stadium and several other
outdoor events were canceled.
Winds up to 90 miles an hour smashed airplanes at several desert airports, especially at Yuma, Ariz., overturned automobiles and interfered
with helicopters dispatched to rescue scores of stranded flood victims.
All schools in the Imperial Valley were closed. Some automobiles in the valley, normally one of the driest parts of the nation, floated away.
An armored truck overturned on Interstate 8 near Holtville and spilled $8 million in bagged bills and loose coins onto the freeway at the
height of the storm. Guards recovered the money.
State 78 was flooded and washed out in several places, including its junction with state 76 at Santa Ysabel and in the Borrego Springs
area where gullies up to 10 feet deep cut through the highway.
Other major roads flooded, washed out or closed by landslides included State 86, the Los Angeles-Imperial Valley artery, S22 (the
Montezuma Grade) west of Borrego and County S2 in the Vallecito Creek area north of Agua Caliente Springs. Up to 4 inches of rain
were measured in the Borrego Springs area.
Late last night the storm swept through Arizona toward southern Utah and southwestern Colorado. Flash flood warnings were issued
by the U.S. Weather Service for all three areas.
San Diego weatherman Don Halverson said heavy scattered showers would continue from the coastal strip to Imperial Valley through
He predicted clearing skies by late this afternoon and fair weather without the high humidity by tomorrow.
Small craft warnings against winds up to 35 miles an hour still were up last night but the winds were expected to diminish to no more
than about 18 miles an hour along the coast by this afternoon.
Desert winds, gusting about 40 miles an hour last night, were expected to subside by tonight.
The far-reaching storm had a heavy impact on Baja California and reached as far north as the Sierra Nevada. In Los Angeles the heavy
rain combined with a 19-day old bus strike to cause one of the worst traffic jams for morning commuters in the city's history.
In Mexico, the highways between Mexicali and San Felipe and Mexicali and Tecate were closed. Winds up to 75 miles an hour hit
San Felipe, where all electricity was out along with most of its telephones.
In Punta Abreojos, a village 600 miles below the U.S. border, roofs were blown from houses. Heavy damage to the road between
San Quintin and El Rosario was reported.
In the Palm Springs area, 18 straight hours of rain flooded many luxurious homes. A two to four foot wave burst through a section
of Palm Desert early yesterday morning. At the College of the Desert, water ran four feet deep.
In San Diego County, power failures occurred in Pacific Beach, Point Loma, Encinitas, Vista, Otay, Sweetwater, Ramona,
Coronado, Santa Ysabel, Imperial Beach and Escondido.
In Oceanside, radio station KUDE was flooded and off the air for 55 minutes at the beginning of its broadcasting day. Numerous
stations in the Imperial Valley and Yuma area were shut down for longer periods.
Robert Evans of the San Diego City Streets Division said only three streets in the city were flooded. They were Fairmont Extension,
north of Twain Street in the Mission Gorge area, 19th Street and Monument Road.
A wave of water 2 & 1/2 feet high and about one mile wide swept through a rural section of Jacumba, demolishing a farmhouse,
according to Russell Beamer, editor of the Mountain Express newspaper. Beamer said Robert Tiffany, his wife and two children
escaped the house, apparently unharmed.
Photo feature 9/11/76 (A-3): Rains Bring Flash Floods -- And Adventure
Left: Cal Trans Photo by Jim Larson
Flash-flood waters undercut two sections
of the Meyer Creek Bridge, two miles west
of Ocotillo, along Interstate 8 in
Highway officials said two large spans
of the bridge which crosses a normally
dry creek were washed out.
Left: Cal Trans Photo by Jim Larson
Rainwater pouring down rocky slopes of
Interstate 8 washed out quarter-mile stretch
of Mountain Springs Grade, five miles west of
Left: Bert Hoppe Photo
Cars and trucks plow their way
through flooded streets in El Centro,
where 18 hours of rain from
Tropical Storm Kathleen spread
flood waters throughout much of the city.
Left: Cal Trans Photo by Jim Larson
Rushing water cut as deep as 15 feet
past pavement, foundation work and
dirt along Mountain Springs Grade,
forcing closure of Interstate 8.
The highway may not be opened for
Left: AP Wirephoto
A small plane stands on its nose at
Yuma, Ariz., airport after it was torn
from moorings by winds which gusted
to 80 miles an hour.
Left: Staff Photo by Dennis Huts
Rain made a Grantville creek into
a place of adventure yesterday.
Youngsters from Adobe Falls Road
launched a box spring raft at upper
left. Missy Bloe, 9, and Kim Brooks,
10, in coveralls at upper right found
things sinking. But others made it go
again, lower photos, until it swept
two riders a half mile downstream.
They flounder ashore, lower right, at
Alvarado Canyon Road. There,
Shawn Kiracofe, 11, was swept
under a culvert and Whit Hargrove,
11, trying to help, went through it.
If any of the original photographers are reading this, I'd be delighted if you could send me
the original photos so that we can have nice, clean images for this Hurricane Kathleen
website which is an educational tool for the benefit of people and a memorial to the lost
victims. My e-mail address is email@example.com. Thank you.
Thank you for visiting "the ultimate" Hurricane Kathleen web page...
Third San Diego Union article
From: Sunday, September 12, 1976:
"Storm's Toll Reaches 10, Damages Set In Millions"
Above: Staff Photo by Rick McCarthy
Raging floodwaters poured through this canyon about six miles west of Ocotillo Friday, crashed through the bridge in the
foreground, part of old U.S. Highway 80 and undermined the rock wall supporting the eastbound lanes of Interstate 8.
The highway, which connects San Diego to El Centro and Yuma, Ariz., was closed indefinitely.
By JENNIFER WILLIAMSON
Staff Writer, The San Diego Union
Article Date: September 12, 1976
Tropical storm Kathleen moved out of the Southwest yesterday, leaving in its wake at least 10 dead, 30 to 40 missing, and
millions of dollars in damage to buildings, crops, roads and highways.
The storm, which raced through Southern California Friday, caused the most extensive damage in Imperial County, where
three confirmed deaths were reported and a Sheriff's Department Spokesman estimated the damage to crops, buildings and
highways in excess of $10 million.
The Board of Supervisors of Imperial County declared a countywide state of emergency yesterday and scheduled a meeting
with officials handling disaster relief to discuss a possible application for state and federal assistance today.
Imperial County health officials issued a warning advising people with private water systems from wells or tanks to chlorinate
their wells and boil any water they drink because of possible water contamination.
The storm hit the area Friday with heavy rains that sent excess water pouring down through little valleys between the hills in 3
to 4 foot high walls that became 20 to 30 feet wide. The water accumulated as it came rushing down, collapsing a 60-foot
high bridge six miles east of Ocotillo and sending water rushing through the small town at estimates of up to 40 miles per hour.
Sheriff's deputies identified the dead as John Patrick Reilly, 63, whose body was found in his destroyed home in Ocotillo
Friday, William Meana, 52, of El Centro, whose body was pulled from a mudbank in the center of town Friday; and an
unidentified man found in Ocotillo late yesterday. Other persons were reported killed in Mexicali, Los Angeles and Yuma,
Deputies estimated that about 12 persons were airlifted from Ocotillo Friday and said ground units rescued another 50.
Thirty homes in Ocotillo were reported damaged, including eight that were destroyed. A sheriff's task force was assigned
to the area yesterday and a night curfew was established to stop any looting.
Red Cross volunteers from San Diego, who went to Ocotillo Wells to provide emergency services including food and shelter
to residents, said five times the town's normal population was there and California Highway Patrol officers were turning
Flooding and mudslides caused extensive damage to railroad tracks in Carrizo Gorge causing a halt to freight trains
between El Centro and San Diego on the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway Co. lines.
SAN DIEGO RAINFALL
(Measured at Lindbergh Field)
Last 24 hours.............................0.21
Season to date...........................1.03
This date last year....................Trace
Normal for season.....................0.11
Richard Hall, assistant manager of public relations for Southern Pacific Railroad in Los Angeles, said two bridges were out in
the gorge in an inaccesible area, making it impossible to assess the amount of damage causing cancellation of the trains on that
The gorge's historic bridge was not one of the ones that was washed out.
San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway Co. transports wheat out of Imperial Valley into San Diego and on the return carries
beer and agricultural products from San Diego County. The normal schedule is one train a day each way, six days a week.
No trouble was reported on Southern Pacific's main railroad line connecting El Centro with Los Angeles, Indo, the Salton
Sea, Yuma, farther east, Hall added.
The Imperial Valley Irrigation District reported power outages and telephone service interruptions from one end of the valley
to the other beginning at 9 a.m. Friday and continuing for 14 hours in some areas.
The California Highway Patrol reported a series of small accidents through both San Diego and Imperial counties but no major
A number of roads were reported closed due to flooding and mudslides, including a section of Interstate 8 near Meyer Creek
Bridge where a 600 to 700-foot strip of road was washed out. The gully left in its place was 35 to 40 feet deep.
A CalTrans spokesman said traffic is being detoured for about 1,000 feet to a two-lane road formerly used for only westbound
traffic beside the bridge.
The spokesman said there were other washouts and areas where water undermined parts of Interstate 8 for a stretch of two to
three miles, beginning five miles east of the Imperial County line, where a river winds across it three times.
Eastbound traffic is being stopped at Japatul Valley Road and Westbound traffic at Ocotillo with only local traffic permitted to
go through on Interstate 8, the spokesman said.
Caltrans officials said bulldozers were working yesterday to build a temporary highway in the Meyer Creek Canyon area of
Interstate 8 for emergency use only by today. That temporary highway is expected to be open to the public by Friday.
4 MEXICALI DEATHS
The tropical storm also hit hard in Mexico, where four deaths were reported in Mexicali yesterday.
Three members of one family were reported killed when an adobe fence on top of a 40 foot cliff above their home in Mexicali
collapsed from heavy rain.
The dead were identified as Lionel Naraja Lopez, 24; Juan Naraja, 15; and Maria Elena Murray Naraja, 4.
In another storm-related accident, Fidel Garcia Ramirez, 56, a farmer living in the Ejido Larazo Cardenas farming community
south of Mexicali was killed when he slipped and fell from the roof of his house while trying to repair a leak.
Eighty families were reported homeless in Mexicali and there was extensive flooding throughout the city. Mexicali residents
were without lights and water for five hours during the height of the storm Friday and some phones in the city remained out
of service yesterday.
Mexican Highway 1 was reported open from Tijuana to Tecate but was closed by mudslides and flooding from Tecate to
Mexicali and from Mexicali to San Felipe. The highway between Tijuana and Ensenada was reported open.
Extensive damage was reported to homes in San Felipe from high winds.
The New River that runs from Mexicali to the Salton Sea, usually about 20 feet wide, was bulged to a quarter of a mile
yesterday, according to Lt. Bruce Anderholt of the Imperial County Sheriff's Department. The level of the Salton Sea
was reported up about two inches causing minor flooding in some seaside communities.
Claude Finnell, Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner, estimated crop loss due to the storm at $5.2 million.
Fourth San Diego Union Article
Also From: Sunday, September 12, 1976
"It Came So Fast": Desert Area Still Echoes Flood's Roar
By PATRICK DILLON
Staff Writer, The San Diego Union
Article Date: September 12, 1976
OCOTILLO -- There was no warning - just a sudden roar.
That is how residents here described the wave that overran their small Imperial County town Friday.
"I've lived out here for 14 years, and I've never seen anything like this," said Ken Johnson, a resident handyman. "And, I'll
tell you, I never want to see another one."
Johnson lost a horse corral to tropical storm Kathleen. His two quarter horses were spared. He considers himself lucky.
At least three persons were killed. And, at least a dozen homes were virtually destroyed by the water and the mud.
"It came on so fast, with the darndest roar you ever heard. Even if you shouted, no one would have heard you," he
State and county officials, attempting to assess the damage, believe the Ocotillo area and the town, located about five miles
east of the San Diego County line, were the hardest hit by the storm which swept Southern California.
Descriptions of the hight and depth of the wave which split the town of 400 residents in half, vary.
But the consensus is that it was higher than a man and nearly half a mile wide, and that it came through fast, at least as
fast as 40 miles per hour.
The wave hit a little after 9 a.m. climaxing a night and morning of steady rainfall.
It came from the west, from the foothills, rumbling down Meyers Creek Wash. On its way to Ocotillo, the wave
gouged a 150-foot gap through the eastbound section of Interstate 8, washed out a highway bridge and twisted
railroad tracks into acute angles.
Rescuers are still searching for two vehicles and their occupants which witnesses saw crossing the Interstate 8 bridge over
Meyers Creek when the wave washed it out.
"I don't know how far down this way they'll find those people" said Richard Bell, owner of the only grocery store in town.
"After the wave went by, you could see refrigerators, trash barrels, furniture and propane tanks...all kinds of things
Bell was attempting to salvage his inventory. He knew that he would have to distribute as much food as possible to his
neighbors during this emergency.
"My shelves weren't hit too bad," he pointed out. But the mud formed an inch-deep grey-brown carpet throughout his
Around the corner, a giant tractor-trailer truck was overturned and the mud formed a dike as high as its side.
"Our house wasn on the fringe of the flood," Bell said. "We have about one inch of mud out there and our woodpile
Ralph Fetzier had just finished installing a new swimming pool to his ranch style home out where the flood hit Ocotillo
the hardest just north of Interstate 8.
All that was left yesterday was a chimney. Water and mud left only the cement foundation of another neighboring
structure, also once a ranch house.
Neither the Fetziers nor the other residents were inside when the water smashed through the structure "like a
bulldozer," in Bell's words.
He said he was worried about an old friend, Eldo Sanders, who jumped into his truck during the height of the flood
and attempted to reach some people stranded up in Painted Gorge about 5 & 1/2 miles northwest of Ocotillo.
"Eldo got a call on his citizens band radio and went up there to get those people," Bell said. "They found his truck this
morning, rolled over in the mud in the gorge, I guess the water got him...but they can't find where it swept him."
REFUSED TO GO
Rescuers did find John Patrick Reilly, 63, a longtime resident of the desert community composed mainly of retired
Reilly refused to evacuate his home, when rescuers -- members of the Ocotillo Volunteer Fire Department -- went
door to door to roust residents out of their houses as the floodwaters swept in after the wave.
"We went back and found him dead," said Burr Seeley, the 66-year-old Chief of the volunteer fire department.
"They took his wife out earlier and got her to higher ground. But he just would not be evacuated and his house
A sheriff's spokesman said Reilly apparently died from a heart attack.
Searchers, late Friday, found the body of an El Centro man identified as William Meana, 52. The victim was discovered
in a muddy bank near the center of town.
There was speculation that Meana may have been an occupant in one of the vehicles the wave swept off the Meyers
Creek Bridge, a component of Interstate 8, about five miles west of Ocotillo.
Late yesterday, searchers discovered the body of a third victim, an unidentified male near the north end of town, where
the waters waged their greatest havoc. The body was being flown by an Imperial County sheriff's helicopter to El
Centro for identification.
Imperial County Commissioner Tunney Williams yesterday declared a state of emergency for the area. He took the action
after surveying damage and reasoned the move would "open the door for state and federal relief funds."
Officials were being flown into the area throughout the day. Many made helicopter observations of the flooded Imperial
Valley territory much of which includes irrigation canals and crops of cotton, sugar beets and grain.
NO COST ESTIMATE
None would estimate the potential dollar loss.
"But it looks like someone sloshed a giant water bucket on the place," one official reported.
Meanwhile, residents the flood dispossessed were being sheltered in the town's volunteer fire station and in the community
"Many of these people are older, but they've just been great. We've had no injuries or illnesses," said Fire Chief Seeley.
He said a preliminary check on damage showed that eight homes were totally damaged and another five received major
"About 14 will require major cleanups and possibly some renovations," he said. "We estimate about 28 more structures will
need major cleanups and another 26 will be fine with just a little work."
"Remember, a lot of people spend summer away from here," he said. "If this thing had happened four months from now,
there would have been 600 people instead of 400 and there would have been more cars on the roads."
Those roads, the ones water and mud missed, have been closed by authorities. Only rescuers, those with four-wheel drive
vehicles are allowed access.
They are searching for more possible victims. That is the top priority here, now. Even though the skies have cleared and
the hot winds have dried much of the mud, transforming it back into fine desert dust, the search will be difficult.
ORIGINAL WEATHER FORECASTS FROM THE SAN DIEGO UNION (PRE DISASTER)
Keep in mind that back in the mid 1970s, weather forecasting was not quite as good of a science as it is today so many people
didn't see the disaster coming until the last minute...
Thursday, 9/9/1976, the day of the heavy rains:
Imperial, Coachella and Lower Colorado River valleys -- Considerable cloudiness today and tomorrow with scattered showers
and thunderstorms. A chance of a few heavy showers. Slightly cooler. Lows tonight, 68 to 78.
Friday, 9/10/1976, the day of the Imperial Valley flood:
Imperial, Coachella, and Lower Colorado River valleys -- A flash flood watch is in effect. Considerable cloudiness through
tomorrow. Scattered showers and a few thunderstorms likely with a chance of a few heavy showers. Not much temperature
change. Lows tonight 75 to 82. Highs mostly in the 90s. Local gusty winds in the vicinity of showers.
Article 2 from Saturday, September 11, 1976
Article below is from front page (A-1):
"DEATH, DESTRUCTION RODE CREST:
Floods Play Havoc in Valley"
By GREG GROSS
Staff Writer, The San Diego Union
Article Date: Saturday September 11, 1976
EL CENTRO -- First came the rain, torrents of it for almost 18 hours, undermining roadbeds on Interstate 8 and half a dozen
other major highways.
Then came winds up to 80 miles an hour that pushed small vehicles off rain-swept roads.
And finally the waves came, waves taller than a man and ranging in width from 100 yards to nearly a mile.
Just after noon yesterday, the rain finally stopped and the sun emerged but the waves kept coming. And long before the last
one had subsided and tropical storm Kathleen had moved on, the Imperial Valley was a shambles, with at least two persons
dead in Ocotillo.
One of the Ocotillo vicitms was tentatively identified as John Patrick Reilly, 63. His body reportedly was found in his
destroyed home. Another unidentified victim was pulled from a mudbank in the center of town.
"The majority of the 14 cities in Imperial County are flooded," said Sheriff's Lt. Mike Signh. "The majority of the highways
in and out of the county have been closed. Some are washed out; others are unsafe due to high winds."
The worst-hit section of the valley was in and around Ocotillo, a small desert community of vacationers and retired persons
about eight miles west of El Centro. Uncounted numbers of homes were destroyed and more than two persons were
killed. More than 10 also were reported missing and Sheriff's Lt. Bruce Anderholt said: "We expect to find more bodies."
After the rain, winds and water had calmed, Anderholt estimated that a third of Ocotillo had been smashed by the storm.
"We had walls of water out here," said Bill Weaver Sr., a service-station owner and 40-year resident of Ocotillo." "It
completely destroyed one house that I saw. There's nothing but the chimney there now."
"Over in one subdivision, the force of the water pushed a gravel truck right through one house."
Sheriff's deputies said they lost all contact with Winterhaven, on the Arizona border. The same thing happened at
Salton City, a resort community on the Salton Sea north of here.
NAVY AIDS RESCUE
It was evacuated by mid-day. Helicopters from the Sheriff's Department and the Navy's El Centro Air Facility flew
out more than 50 residents of isolated areas.
In the tiny community of Dixieland, 12 miles west of El Centro off old U.S. 80, Mrs. Ben Walker said she was alone
in her 8 by 27 foot trailer when the waves came.
"I was never so surprised in all my life," said the 65 year-old woman. "Water came over the bed." She was saved
by sheriff's deputies in a flatboat.
About the time she was wading through the water in her trailer, another Salton Sea resort area, Bombay Beach was
reported entirely underwater. Deputies began referring to it as a lake.
Power failures and telephone blackouts were the order of the day and communication with Mexican border
communities was sporadic at best. There was no word on flooding, damage or casualties in Mexicali and Tecate,
nor from the Baja, California cities of Ensenada and San Quintin, all of which were stuck by Kathleen.
On the American side, farmers and growers were trying to take stock of their losses, which could be enormous. The
Imperial Valley is one of the major food baskets in the United States, grossing more than $500 million last year in
onion, melon, lettuce, cotton and alfalfa crops, as well as beef cattle.
And farmers suffered just as much as the urban dwellers and suburbanites.
"The rain has stopped everything," said Imperial County Agricultural Commissioner Claude Finnell, who added that he'd
never seen a bigger rainfall in his 22 years as commissioner.
"Everything will be set back at least two weeks," he went on. "The fields have been covered with mud that will make
the use of farm machinery impossible."
Finnell predicted that at least 10,000 acres of sugar beets would have to be replanted.
By day's end, there was only one way in and out of Imperial County, State 111, which was also closed for a time.
Left: Wind Gust Map from 9/11/1976 San Diego Union.
Numbers on map at left refer to readings by the
National Weather Service.
5. 11 p.m. Tuesday 9-7-1976, 55 knots with gusts to 65 knots
6. 5 a.m. Wednesday 9-8-1976, 55 knots with gusts to 65 knots
7. 2 p.m. Wednesday 9-8-1976, 55 knots with gusts to 65 knots
8. 5 p.m. Wednesday, 9-8-1976, 60 knots
9. 11 p.m. Wednesday, 9-8-1976, 55 knots
10. 5 a.m. Thursday, 9-9-1976, 45 knots
11. 11 a.m. Thursday, 9-9-1976, 45 knots with gusts to 55 knots
12. 8 p.m. Thursday, 9-9-1976, 70 knots with gusts to 80 knots
13. 11 p.m. Thursday, 9-9-1976, 55 knots with gusts to 65 knots
14. 5 a.m. Friday, 9-10-1976, 35 knots with gusts to 45 knots
Staff map by Bob Fassett based on National Weather Service
Fifth San Diego Union Article
From: Monday, September 13, 1976
"Storm's Death Toll Now 13"
GOV. BROWN ASKED TO DECLARE IMPERIAL VALLEY DISASTER AREA
By PATRICK DILLON
Staff Writer, The San Diego Union
Article Date: September 13, 1976
The bodies of three persons, all Mexicans, were found in northeastern Baja California yesterday, raising the death toll to 13
claimed by the tropical storm called Kathleen which ravaged the Southwest Friday.
Gov. Brown has been requested to declare the southeast corner of California, where floodwaters overran crops, buildings
and roads, a disaster area.
The damage in Imperial Valley, hardest hit by water and mudslides, was estimated at $10.6 million.
About one-half that figure includes crop damage. But, Claude Finnell, county agricultural commissioner, said yesterday:
"That amount could triple when you consider reworking the land, preparation and rebuilding damaged irrigation canals."
New flooding was reported along a 25-mile stretch of the New River, where the normally 25-foot-wide surface swelled
to nearly one-half mile across, between the city of Brawley and the Salton Sea.
An Imperial County Sheriff's Department spokesman said the river rose about one foot per hour, beginning early Saturday
and peaked at 4a.m. yesterday.
No homes were destroyed or endagered, the spokesman said. But a rodeo corral located on the western edge of
Brawley was inundated and 30 horses were evacuated.
An estimated 180,000 acre feet of water ran out of the Imperial Valley into the Salton Sea over the weekend as a result
of the sloshing created by Kathleen.
Robert Carter, general manager of the Imperial Irrigation District, estimated that the 348-square mile land-locked body of
water rose 8 inches in a little more than 24 hours.
A fan of silt, three to four miles wide, surrounded the shoreline, Carter said.
SWEEP OF AREA
About 200 persons, sheriff's deputies and volunteers conducted a walking sweep yesterday through Ocotillo, an Imperial
County town located about five miles east of the San Diego County line.
Excess runoff from the rain dropped on the Coyote and Jacumba Mountains to the west, collected in Myer Gorge, and with
mounting intensity caused by growing volume and gravity, surged down on top of Ocotillo behind a wave nearly 10 feet high.
Three persons died in the Ocotillo area as a result of the flood.
Two of them, John Patrick Reilly, 63, and Eldo Sanders, 62, lived in the desert resort and retirement community for more
than 15 years. The other victim, William Meana, 52, who lived in El Centro, was apparently just passing through when the
wave destroyed Meyer Creek Bridge, part of eastbound Interstate 8, and swept him away.
It took searchers nearly all day Saturday to find the body of Sanders who had driven during the height of the flood to
Painted Gorge, about 5 & 1/2 miles northeast of Ocotillo, to rescue a family calling for help on their citizen band radio.
On Saturday morning, rescuers found Sanders' overturned pickup truck near Painted Gorge. Just before nightfall, they found
his body in a muddy wash 10 miles to the southeast, near Plaster City.
Authorities in Mexicali, the capital of Baja-Calif., said the bodies of two shrimp fishermen were found yesterday a few miles
south of the gulfside fishing village of San Felipe.
The victims were identified as Guillermo Albanez, 33, and Eugenio Velasquez, 19, both of San Felipe. Their 40-ton shrimp
boat sank during the storm.
The body of Juan Jose Ibarra, 57, of Mexicali, was found yesterday about 20 miles west of Mexicali on the highway leading
from the capital city to Tijuana.
That highway was washed out in several places and special air shuttles have been set up to transport passengers between
Tijuana and Mexicali.
Officials in Mexicali said 80 homes were washed out by floods and crop damage in the 500,000-acre Mexicali Valley was
estimated at $10 million.
A section of the aqueduct under construction between Mexicali and Tijuana was also destroyed, officials said.
In Yuma, Ariz., where one person died Friday, a sheriff's spokesman said latest assessments show limited damage and
cleanup operations have begun.
"We are really just picking up fallen trees and digging out driveways," the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Thomas Suitt, D-Indian Wells, said he has urged Gov. Brown to declare Imperial and Riverside
counties state disaster areas.
Supervisors in both counties Saturday declared emergencies and requested state and federal relief.
"Considering the damage to homes, businesses and agriculture, I think we're looking at $90 million to $100 million damage,"
Suitt told the Associated Press.
Sixth San Diego Union Article
From: Tuesday, September 14, 1976
"Imperial, Riverside Counties Ruled Storm Disaster Areas"
Above: CalTrans Photo by James Larson
"Ocotillo Detour Prepared" State Department of Transportation workers bulldoze and scrape out
a temporary road where floodwaters washed out 800 feet of Interstate 8 last Friday. The detour,
four miles west of Ocotillo, is expected to open to traffic Friday.
By PATRICK DILLON
Staff Writer, The San Diego Union
Article Date: September 14, 1976
Gov. Brown last night declared Imperial and Riverside counties disaster areas.
That decision opens the way for the two flood-struck areas to receive state and federal financial relief in reconstructing
damaged public facilities.
Elizabeth Coleman, the governor's press secretary, said Brown made the decision to authorize the relief following a late
evening meeting with staff from the state Office of Emergency Services in Sacramento.
"We received and reviewed preliminary damage reports from the two areas and recommended that the governor authorize
relief," said Jeff Cohen, a spokesman for the Office of Emergency Services.
He said initial assessments set the loss figure for public facilities in Riverside County at $6 million and $3 million for
The loss to private property in those two counties, Cohen said, has been estimated at $32.5 million for Riverside County
and $6.6 million for Imperial County.
Those two areas, along with the Mexicali Valley in northeastern Baja California, were hardest hit by flooding caused
when tropical storm Kathleen spread heavy rainfall throughout the Southwest Friday.
At least 13 persons have been reported dead as a result of the flooding in those areas.
Crop loss for the three areas, which are renowned for producing farm products ranging from citrus to grain, are still
being assessed. Preliminary estimates set the crop loss at $11.5 million for Imperial county.
"Private property losses to farmers and homeowners do not fall under state disaster provisions," Cohen pointed out. "To
collect low interest loans from agencies like the Small Business Administration, federal relief should be sought."
However, the decision to declare the areas eligible for state disaster relief facilitates consideration for national disaster
reflief, Cohen emphasized.
An engineer for the state Department of Transportation (CalTrans) said between $4 million to $5 million in damage to state
highways in San Diego and Imperial counties was caused by the flooding.
A temporary bypass was being bulldozed around a section of Interstate 8 about four miles west of Ocotillo, in Imperial
County, whose floodwaters gouged out 400 separate chunks from the westbound lanes and destroyed a bridge supported
by two-foot-thick concrete columns.
The detour circumventing the broken section over Myer Creek will be completed and open to traffic by Friday, but will be
limited to a single lane west and a single lane east, said James Larson, a CalTrans spokesman.
He also said CalTrans engineers estimate it will be six months before the broken link in Interstate 8 is restored.
Traffic in the meantime has been rerouted from El Centro north to Brawley; then northwest on Route 86 to meet Route 78,
just below the Salton Sea. Traffic then follows route 78 to State 3.
Drivers must then proceed north on State 3 to Borrego Springs and then back down south to the Yaqui Pass Road.
He said all other roads, including a 300 foot area of Highway 78, south of Borrego Springs, that was washed out, have been
"We had about 40 people and at least 10 earthmoving machines working out in the desert and 20 more people on crews in
the mountains to get to this point," Larson said. "With the exception of the Interstate 8 problem, we've got things pretty well
The majority of county roads in both San Diego and Imperial Counties were passable by yesterday evening.
Seventh San Diego Union Article
From: Saturday, September 18, 1976
"Washed Out in Flood:
Temporary Route to Desert Opens"
Above: Photo by Jim Larsen
Last week's flooding destroyed sections of San Diego and
Arizona Eastern Railway tracks between Jacumba and Ocotillo.
Part of the 24-mile segment, shown above, buckled off an
Article Date: September 18, 1976
Road builders yesterday opened a temporary stretch of Interstate 8 in the Myer Creek area, about nine miles east of the San
Diego County line. However, state officials cautioned motorists that road conditions at times may be vexing.
The 10-mile stretch of temporary highway is only two lanes -- one in each direction -- and for westbound traffic, trucks
lumbering up steep grades probably will cause delays, officials said.
In San Diego meanwhile, county officials took steps toward declaring a state of emergency, an action that will enable the
county to apply to the state for low-cost loans to repair an estimated $1.5 million damage from floods spawned by last
A declaration of local emergency was made by Frank Panarisi, acting principal assistant chief administrative officer, but to
become effective, the declaration must be ratified by the Board of Supervisors.
Riverside and Imperial counties have already been declared disaster areas by Gov. Brown.
The Myer Creek Bridge, in Imperial County, had been traversed by a four-lane bridge, with two lanes in each direction.
But the bridge was knocked down by a wall of water that roared down the In-ko-Pah Mountains during the heavy rains.
The rains also tore up about 24 miles of track of the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway, a division of the Southern
Pacific, between Ocotillo and Jacumba. Southern Pacific officials have said no decision has been made whether to re-
build the track or to permanently reroute freight trains through Riverside County.
Before the temporary segment of highway was opened yesterday, Inspector H. A. Porrazzo of the California Highway
Patrol announced all trucks in the area will be subject to inspection. Trucks in need of repairs will not be allowed to
continue until repairs are made, he said.
Costs of the detour -- including refashioning a bridge and installation of signs urging slow-moving trucks to use the shoulders
of the road -- was estimated at $150,000 by the California Department of Transporation.
NOTE: REMEMBER ALL DOLLAR FIGURES IN THE ABOVE ARTICLES ARE IN 1980 DOLLARS.
HURRICANE KATHLEEN GRAVEYARD:
"To remember those who have died..."
I don't have all 13 names yet, just 10 names mentioned in the articles so far. If you're a family member who lost a loved one
to Hurricane Kathleen, please e-mail me their name, age at the time of death and information about how they died and I'll add
them to this cemetary. Let's honor them all by remembering them. Donations are appreciated to keep this site going.