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Jan. 22 Flood Destroys Home of PLNU Employee Juana Jimenez

Jimenez’s house on Jan 22. Photos courtesy of Juana Jimenez.

By: Milla Kuiper

Over 800 houses were damaged and destroyed in the devastating flood in San Diego and the surrounding area during the storm on Jan. 22, including the Encanto home of Juana Jimenez, a Sodexo employee at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU).

Jimenez had stayed home from work the day the storm hit due to a spider bite. According to Richard Hohn, a manager at Sodexo, she almost never calls off work. 

Jimenez’s house on Jan 22. Photos courtesy of Juana Jimenez.

“Miss Juana has more sick time than anyone else that works here,” said Hohn. “She never calls off sick. [It] shows you who she is as a person.”

The night of the storm, Jimenez wasn’t answering her phone, which worried Hohn further. He came to check on her because of her spider bite, and found a whole different mess.

When she saw the flood coming outside, Jimenez first told her husband to bring in the furniture on the patio, but the wave came so quickly that she had to shut the door not long after, and before she knew it, the water began streaming into the house like a fountain.

Jimenez grabbed a bucket to scoop water from the room and dump it down the kitchen drain, but by the time she tossed the first bucket, the water was already to her knees, and her phone fell out of her pocket into the rising muddy pool.

Once it slipped beneath the surface, there was no time to look for it. The water kept rising. 

“I put my little dog on the sofa,” she said, but then the water was at her waist, and she knew it was no use staying on the ground. 

Jimenez picked up nothing but “[her] Baby Jesus and [her] dog,” before fighting through the water toward the attic, pulling down the ladder, and delivering her treasures to safety. 

Below, her 89-year-old mother-in-law lay down on the couch, and the water began to reach where her head lay.

“She sat down, prayed, … [and] she said, ‘Leave me alone, let me pass away,’” said Jimenez. “I said, ‘No, don’t tell me that!’ I got strong, [because] she’s very tall, and I’m small.”

Fighting a torrent of water reaching her shoulders and now furniture, Jimenez grabbed her mother-in-law and pushed her up the ladder into the attic. They stayed there for four hours, while furniture, mud and the foundations of the house fought for dominance below. 

When it was finally safe to come down, the water still reached her waist, and the outside world was transformed.

“It was like a beach,” said Jimenez. Except instead of sparkling and blue, the water was nasty, black with trash and sewage. Instead of ships, cars floundered in the filthy landscape like abandoned boats.

“Her cars were underwater,” said Reina Jimenez, Juana’s daughter and another employee of Sodexo. “Her brand new car, her 2022 Traverse, is trashed.”

Jimenez’s house on Jan 22. Photos courtesy of Juana Jimenez.

Juana Jimenez and her mother-in-law weren’t hurt, but her husband had gone outside during the storm. He had been able to rescue their two other dogs, Mr. Jones and Topo, by putting them on a boogie board, but hadn’t seen a fence that was covered by the water, and cut his eye. 

Three of their cats found safety in the upper kitchen cabinets, but the fourth cat was hit by the falling refrigerator and didn’t make it. 

“It’s my daughter’s cat. She’s very upset,” Jimenez said.

In addition to the cat and the cars, nearly all of her family’s material possessions are ruined beyond repair. Computers are destroyed, furniture waterlogged, clothes, appliances and even the walls are soaked through and muddy, religious items, heirlooms and documents are ruined.

Jimenez was hoping to save her kitchen and bathroom cabinets, but they can’t be salvaged either and will need to be taken out. 

She purchased six space heaters and has photographs spread across the finally-clean floor, drying.

The family had to move everything they owned out of the house to even clean up the mud, which permeated every crevice of their home. Even then, the damage to the home they’ve lived in for 20 years was irreparable. 

On Feb. 19,  President Joe Biden approved California’s request for the storm on Jan. 22 to be declared a major disaster

The almost month-long period between disaster and declaration has left Jimenez and her family, as well as hundreds of other San Diego residents struggling for weeks. 

The disaster declaration has allowed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to begin sending workers to assess the damage to people’s houses and property and calculate how much aid and compensation each household will receive. 

The drywall and guts of the walls have since been cleaned out of Jimenez’ house, leaving only the wooden frame of the house in most places. On Feb. 24, FEMA workers came to the house to assess the damage and declared it unlivable. The smell of mold and mildew was overpowering, the destruction was too great and the door was too swollen from water damage to close.

Due in part to this, and despite the family having lost everything, looters have come through the neighborhood, causing Jimenez to choose to sleep in a tent on the balcony to protect her home rather than join her family in hotels and friends’ houses. 

“There were looters, [and] my dad had to stop them,” said Reina Jimenez.

Having insurance has yielded nothing, because even flooding insurance only covers burst pipes and roof leaks, not groundwater. The family doesn’t yet know how much aid they’ll receive from FEMA. 

According to Hohn, Sodexo has, “an emergency disaster relief fund,” for which he is currently working on applications, for both Juana and Reina. “They’ve both been impacted, they’re both employees,” Hohn said.

“Fortunately for Ms. Juana, she had a lot of sick time,” he said. “So she was able to get paid even though she was out of work for about three or four weeks.” 

Jimenez did not get any paid time off for the disaster itself. 

“She could get time off, but I don’t think she’d have gotten paid for it,” said Hohn. 

“If you’re sick, I’ll need a doctor’s note so I can release your benefits,” he said. “Once I got that doctor’s note, that freed me up to release her sick time. [Otherwise,] I could get in trouble. So at least she had the sick leave benefit.”

Reina Jimenez detailed the story in a GoFundMe fundraiser, linked here. https://gofund.me/ab763a2f

“Keep us in your prayers,” both Reina and Juana said.