Tzu Chi Northwest Provides Emergency Relief After Storm Sweeps Merced County, CA

Northwest  |  March 6, 2023
Survivors line up at the distribution site to receive supplies and assistance
Survivors line up at the distribution site to receive supplies and assistance. Photo/Kitty Lu

Written by Renee Liu, Kitty Lu
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Andrea Barkley

On the night of January 9, 2023, a winter storm struck Merced County, California, in north-central California. Heavy rain caused two local canals to overflow. As a result, the neighborhood of Planada, located near the canals, flooded. The Office of Emergency Services in Merced informed Tzu Chi Northwest volunteers of the disaster. Volunteers were then deployed to the Disaster Recovery Center on February 4 to provide support and distribute cash cards to those affected by the flooding.

Led by the survivors, Tzu Chi volunteers visit their homes to learn about their situations
Led by the survivors, Tzu Chi volunteers visit their homes to learn about their situations. Photo/Kitty Lu
Survivors' homes are severely damaged
The rain-soaked walls of the survivors' homes are severely damaged and in urgent need of reconstruction. Photo/ Kitty Lu

While in Planada, Tzu Chi volunteers assembled in the home of Fabi Cervantes, the Planada En Accion (Planada In Action) volunteer convener. Planada En Accion is a local organization striving to “Ppositively impact its community.” Cervantes showed the volunteers how the rain had severely damaged her property. Mold covered her walls and ceiling. The memory of the tragedy still haunted her. She shared, “The flooding was four feet high, from here to the alley, and there was no power. The house smelled musty, and our tap and sewer water mixed. So yeah, everything was difficult.”

At the distribution site, Merced County Supervisor Rodrigo Espinosa shared information about Merced County residents with Tzu Chi Northwest, “Merced County is a predominantly agricultural area. We produce dairy products and almonds; low-income families and undocumented farmworkers are the main workforces here. Unfortunately, the disaster has made life very difficult for these residents.”

Before the distribution began, Tzu Chi volunteers sang songs accompanied by sign language for the participating survivors. The gesture touched attendees. Maria Figueroa, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokesperson, was deeply moved, saying, “I felt tears welling up as you sang and signed. I really sensed your compassion.”

Tzu Chi is all about holding compassion in your heart and taking action to help.

Maria Guadalupe Renteria, a disaster survivor, thanked Tzu Chi Northwest for assisting the people affected: “I’m grateful. We have nothing left. We have seven people in our family, and this cash card will greatly help, and I’m thankful to you.”

Survivor Cynthia Hope Andrade recalled the horrific sight of the storm sweeping through her town. She still had lingering fears, “I cry whenever I think about the disaster. But, Tzu Chi volunteers listened with their hearts and made me feel like I wasn’t afraid anymore.”

Tzu Chi Northwest’s selfless spirit uplifted everyone present. Another suvivor named Phoebe said, “I hope our community can stay together and continue to help each other. We are a small community, but we can do it. Of course, Tzu Chi volunteers are not obligated to help us. But they came anyways because they care, so let’s applaud them.”

After the disaster, survivors and volunteers witnessed the power of mutual aid and love. Despite the significant challenges ahead for these residents, volunteers felt hopeful as they gathered together for a common cause.

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