Monterey County is struggling to get assistance from the state and federal government that county officials have requested to help recover from recent storm impacts, including flooding in Pajaro and other areas in early March.

“We’ve been on the phone every day with people in Sacramento,” county spokesperson Nicholas Pasculli said at a virtual news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Pasculli said further assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency relied on a presidential disaster declaration and he did not understand why President Joe Biden had not granted the county’s request yet, given that estimated damage meets the threshold of $100 million.

“We’ve been on the phone every day with people in Sacramento.”

Nicholas Pasculli, Monterey County spokesperson

Pasculli urged residents to contact their elected representatives at the state and federal level to advocate for the county’s assistance.

Business owners in the county seeking more immediate help can access resources from the county’s partnership with the Monterey County Business Council, which still has COVID-19 pandemic recovery funding available that can be used for disaster recovery, according to Paul Farmer, the business council’s chief operating officer.

Additional resources are available from the California Strawberry Commission.

Members of Bay Federal Credit Union can get low-interest business loans for up to $5,000 and personal loans of up to $2,500, which can help cover emergency expenses at a cheaper rate than a credit card, said credit union representative Amy Ivey.

Evacuees warned of health risks

Health risks that are preventing people from moving back into their homes include mold and rats attracted by rotten food, as well as unknown potential contaminants picked up by flood waters, according to Marni Flagg with the county’s environmental health bureau.

Residents will likely be allowed back into Pajaro on Friday if repairs to a sewer main are completed as expected. Water is shut off while the sewer system is being repaired.

Residents are being advised not to stay in Pajaro overnight once the evacuation orders have been lifted because of the ongoing health risks, which will be mitigated when cleanup begins and residences can dry out. Hygiene stations will be set up around the town during the cleanup period. Transportation will be available back to temporary shelters.

There will be an interim period between when it is safe for residents to re-enter to assess damage and begin cleanup, and when it will be safe to stay in their homes. Given the different degrees of damage, some people might be able to return sooner than others, but it could be weeks or months before some residents can return, according to Pasculli.