SAN JOSE, Calif. – Thousands of people evacuated from a flood in San Jose, California, returned home Thursday amid warnings to be careful about hygiene and handling food that may have come into contact with flood water.
"The water is not safe," Mayor Sam Liccardo said. "There is contamination in this water and the contamination runs the gamut."
Officials also hoped to rescue more than two dozen horses from ranches if the water recedes enough.
About two-thirds of the 14,000 residents evacuated two days ago were being allowed to return home while 3,800 people remain under a mandatory evacuation order issued when a creek overflowed following heavy rains and sent waist-high water into neighborhoods.
Those who went home were sorting through waterlogged furniture, toys and clothing after the creek water carrying engine fuel and sewage swamped their homes.
Victor Chen, his two children, and his wife returned home after being evacuated Tuesday night.
"It's really tough to see. A home is all we worked for, and our family is all here," Chen, 42, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "And we had to leave it behind when the water was rising."
Liccardo acknowledged that the city failed to properly notify residents to evacuate early Wednesday, Some people said they got their first notice by seeing firefighters in boats in the neighborhood.
"We are assessing what happened in that failure," he said.
Flood warnings were in place until Saturday because waterways were overtaxed.
The city began alerting residents of the flood situation on Tuesday via social and mainstream media and sending emergency alerts to those who had signed up for it, city spokesman David Vossbrink said.
When water levels changed dramatically overnight, they sent police and firefighters door-to-door during the dramatic overnight evacuation.
Several residents faulted the city for failing to provide proper warnings.
"The city dropped the ball on making sure that people were notified of the potential impact of this flood," said resident Jean-Marie White, whose house and backyard were flooded. "Nobody had any clue."
Assistant San Jose City Manager Dave Sykes said officials first became aware of the rising water late Tuesday when firefighters began evacuating about 400 people from a low-lying residential area.
City officials did not believe the waters would spread to other neighborhoods and did not expand the evacuation orders.