Rescuers use front loader to move elderly residents trapped in Cathedral City care home during storm

Irene Cruz Image
Tuesday, August 22, 2023
Rescuers use front loader to move elderly residents in Cathedral City
Fire crews rescued more than 40 people in Cathedral City since Sunday night following severe flooding from Tropical Storm Hilary, including a group of elderly residents trapped in a boarding care home.

CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. (KABC) -- Fire crews rescued more than 40 people in Cathedral City since Sunday night following severe flooding from Tropical Storm Hilary, including a group of elderly residents trapped in a boarding care home.

Through the help of community partners including the Riverside County Fire Department, which provided a bulldozer, and Burrtec, which provided an earthmover, the 14 seniors were rescued, according to Cathedral City Fire Department Chief Michael Contreras.

At the same time, the department also had to work with a gas company to mitigate the potential for fire due to two active gas leaks.

"At the end of the day, it was (because of) one of the great big earthmovers that we were able to put the patients into the big scoop,'' Contreras said. "It's not something that I've ever done in my 34 years as a firefighter but disasters like this really cause us to have to look at those means of rescue that aren't in the book and that we don't do every day.''

After they were rescued from the home, caregivers moved the senior citizens to other facilities, according to Contreras.

Among all the rescues, Contreras said that only one person had a medical emergency and was airlifted to a hospital in stable condition.

No injuries were reported.

The fire department is now in the recovery phase, in which they'll look at what the issue is and figure out the best solutions.

Cleanup in Palm Springs

Roads in Palm Springs also began to reopen through the morning and afternoon, according to the Palm Springs Police Department. Indio police reported Monday afternoon that most of its roads were open as crews worked non-stop to ensure streets became clear and safe to drive on, but Avenue 44 was completely washed out.

Palm Desert city officials announced Tuesday morning that some of its roads were reduced to partial closures.

The Palm Springs Unified School District canceled classes until Wednesday.

Coachella Valley and Desert Sands unified school districts canceled classes Monday and officials said schools would return to normal schedules Tuesday.

Riverside County CEO Jeff Van Wagenen declared a local emergency Monday for the entire county. The cities of Palm Springs, Indio, Cathedral City, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Desert Hot Springs and Coachella also issued local emergency declarations.

Resources on the ground

The California National Guard reported Monday morning that its 330th Military Police Company responded to Cathedral City and Palm Springs to aid the fire departments during rescue operations.

Nearby Palm Desert also reported an array of road closures due to flooding. Video from other cities in the area showed cars swamped with floodwater, but there were no immediate reports of injuries associated with the storm.

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a State of Emergency for much of Southern California including Riverside County to support the Hilary response and recovery efforts as the state continues mobilizing and coordinating resources ahead of the storm's forecasted impacts.

On Sunday morning, the Federal Emergency Management Agency pre-positioned supplies at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, and a FEMA Incident Management Assistance Team deployed to the California Office of Emergency Services and was prepared to assist with any requests for federal assistance. Additional teams were on standby for deployment if necessary, officials said.

Care and reception centers were available at Desert Mirage High School at 86150 66th Ave. in Thermal, at the Banning Community Services Center at 789 N. San Gorgonio Ave., both open 24 hours.

Residents requiring help with their animals were encouraged to call the Riverside County Department of Animal Services at 951-358-7387.

Public transportation impact

Due to the major road closures still in place throughout all Coachella Valley cities, the SunLine Transit Agency suspended its service for Monday and resumed some service Tuesday with some detours and affected stops. More

information about SunLine transportation routes can be found at

In the Coachella Valley, several cities reported that 911 services were down, including Palm Springs, which reported Monday that the issue was resolved. The issue was resolved in the area by 7:26 a.m., according to EMD.

City News Service contributed to this report.