16 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY february 29-march 6, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com The floodwaters have long receded from Pajaro. But one year later residents and businesses are still struggling to stay afloat. By Celia Jiménez That Sinking As cars vroom along Porter Drive heading toward either Watsonville or Salinas, it looks like an everyday scene in Pajaro; far from the images of water that rushed into the town nearly one year ago, on the morning of March 11, 2023, just a few hours after the Pajaro River levee broke, displacing hundreds of residents from their homes. To the naked eye and for the thousands of commuters who travel through the town, the scene seems back to normal. But for many people who live there, own businesses, or work in Pajaro or the surrounding areas, they are still under water. Some drained their savings accounts, borrowed money from friends and relatives, or used their credit cards to cope with the financial losses they suffered during the flood. The floodwaters have long since receded, but it continues to impact them. On a recent Friday afternoon, Mexican music plays in the background at Mi Rancho, a Mexican restaurant that relocated to Pajaro from Watsonville about six months before the flood. The small restaurant is empty while Maria Colin Paniagua waits for customers to arrive. She spent the first three months drawing her customers to her new location, and says revenue remains down by 30 percent since the flood. The money she makes is barely enough to pay the bills and her two employees. Colin Paniagua pays $4,300 a month in rent (including the restaurant and four rooms she subleases), and sometimes she invests her Social Security check of $700 into her restaurant. “I don’t have it easy,” Colin Paniagua says in Spanish, as she notes she’s four months behind and had to borrow $5,000 from her daughter-in-law. “I think most of us are facing the same.” Frank Chavez, owner of Chaz Design, which specializes in car wraps, says he lost business for about two months, between evacuations and cleaning to reopen. “Our savings were pretty much completely gone,” Chavez points out. He says revenue is down by about 50 percent compared to previous years, after losing clients, materials and equipment during the flood. Many residents stayed in the area Maria Antonia Contreras hopes for a better strawberry season so she and her family can recover financially from last year’s flood. celia jiménez