Residents at Creekside Cabins occupied the temporary bridge between the RV park and Highway 101 last night, counter-blocking an excavator that was moving into position to prevent access to the property. Residents originally had between 8:00 am Wednesday and 5:00 last night to evacuate.
Now, after last night’s standoff, they’ll be allowed another hour this morning to get off the property that’s been declared a public health emergency after a sinkhole opened up in the driveway, blocking access.
By quarter after five last night, nine trailers had been hauled, most of them by a driver for United Disaster Relief of Northern California. Passenger cars and pickup trucks had been streaming over the bridge for hours, and at least one mobile home containing a family with six kids had inched onto the highway, belching smoke and smelling of bad brakes.
Amid conflicting information and spotty cell phone and internet access, residents didn’t fully understand the immediacy of the situation until very close to the deadline. At 5:13, with sunset approaching and a line of cars creeping toward the exit, a crewmember began to move the excavator onto the bridge.
Shaylene Harvey walked towards him with her dog, a four-year-old Australian shepherd named Lilly. We can’t repeat most of what she had to say, but before she sat down on the bridge, she implored the crew to, “Just let the last few people out.”
“Let us be homeless on this side of the bridge!” she screamed, as Randy and Mitzi Feta began to cross in their car, fully loaded with personal belongings, houseplants, and two huskies. Their trailer, packed to capacity, was left behind as the huskies howled and Mitzi sobbed into her hands.
“I’m trying to enforce the order,” the crewmember said, after backing the excavator away from the bridge to the side of the road and disembarking.
Another resident wept as he described his situation. “They paid a quarter million to put this bridge in,” he said. “And they could have put a permanent one in for way less than that…I don’t know why they did this, and now they gave us two days…I have three children, a five-year-old, a twelve-year-old, and a seventeen-year-old, that I have to find a house for.”
Everyone on the premises was committing a misdemeanor, but no was cited, as a Highway Patrol Officer arrived on the scene and asked frantic residents to explain what was going on. “Why do you want to get your trailers out?” he asked, amid the sound of heavy equipment backing up, people screaming, and the dogs voicing their displeasure. “Because we’re all going to be homeless,” Harvey exclaimed. “Do you not know what’s going on?” He did not. Residents briefed him at the scene, as more highway patrol arrived, quickly reinforced by sheriff’s deputies.
Shortly after 6:00 pm, a MedStar ambulance and Willits fire truck arrived, responding to a woman experiencing an oxygen-related medical emergency inside the park. We spoke with Randy Feta just as the sirens subsided and firefighters spilled out of the truck and ran across the road, over the bridge, and into the campground.
“The thing is, they gave us some directions to get out of here, otherwise they’re shutting the place down, that’s fine and dandy,” he said. “We followed the directions, we packed, we’re ready to go, now we got no place to sleep. My car’s packed, my trailer’s packed, there’s no room, no nothing. We’re ready to go. Now they won’t let us go…I want to get out,” he exclaimed. “I packed all day. I got a bad back, a bad neck, I’m disabled, I’m elderly, and I packed hard to get ready to go. I’m just following the directions. I did everything.” The Fetas had packed so tightly that the bed in their trailer was inaccessible, so they slept in their car last night.
On the bridge, occupying residents moved out of the way to allow Manny, another resident we spoke with earlier this week, to cross over and get out. He told us yesterday he spent the whole day getting his trailer registered, but he wasn’t hauling it with the pickup truck he’d been working on. When we walked into the park in near-total darkness hours later, his trailer was still there, with the lights on.
One former resident was on scene with a one-ton truck, offering to haul people out for whatever they could pay. Aaron Rusty Deeson observed that, “Unfortunately, most of the residents out here have not been able to afford to purchase or maintain a one-ton vehicle to haul these large trailers they live in with. About half the residents still have all of their belongings here. Most of the residents spent the last 24 or 48 hours getting everything ready. At the last minute, they were ready to go, but there were just not enough vehicles available to get them out of here in a timely manner. I mean, it’s been chaos.”
There is one road in the campground, heavily potholed and barely wide enough to be called a one-lane thoroughfare. At the back of the property, so far from the road it was impossible to hear the commotion, 62-year-old John Fails, who has been at Creekside Cabins for 25 years, stood in the dark and sounded stunned that he’d been unable to get a hauler’s attention.
“Basically, I’m being put homeless,” he said. “And it’s not right. I’ve been ready to go. I actually stopped him two or three times today and said, yeah, I’m ready. And he hooked up this guy, and then he went and hooked up the girl at the end, and the whole time, I’m waiting. And he just drove right on by and never came back.”
Sheriff Matt Kendall was fairly sure there would be a chance to get out first thing in the morning.
“If they can get lined up at the bridge in the morning, they’re going to give them about an hour, is what I was told,” he said. “But you have to remember, this contractor has gone into a contract and has very specific permits about what has to be done for the fish and game remediations,” he said. “Nobody wants to get on the wrong side of those…And we have to remember, these road workers out here, they have a safety plan, and they have to do these things, because this work is absolutely incredibly dangerous…Every one of these guys deserves to go home to their wives and families.”
In the meantime, Aaron had gotten the guarantee he was waiting for: that he could get back out if he drove deep into the property to pick up one old man who had been left behind.
Everyone got out of the way as John Fails’ trailer trundled over the bridge spanning the sinkhole, then slowly crept off into the night.
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