Looking Back: Flooding in Morro Bay & Gary & David Owens Come to the Rescue

Late 2018 the Central Coast saw lots of good rain and thankfully no or little damage. 2019 is stacking up to be a wet year and we’re facing another big storm coming in this afternoon or tonight which is February 1. Midwest-style thunder and lightening happened a couple days ago, but then gentle rains. The winds and high — King Surf, Blood Moon have all been exciting.

I thought it would be interesting to post the following column that appeared in Tolosa Press, the former name of Simply Clear Marketing and Media. It was my “Then & Now” Column for 1/14/16 and appeared in The Bay News, Coast News, and SLO City News. It was reflective of years ago when Morro Bay actually experience flooding and the Gary and David Owens Family, owners of Village Cleaners in Morro Bay came to the rescue…what we do in small communities!

Enjoy the column:

Cheers! As of January 4, 2016, PG&E Meteorologist John Lindsey announced on his FACEBOOK page, “El Niño has arrived. A series of storms will march across the Pacific toward California this month, if not longer.”

And as promised, January 5 saw rain dousing the plains – and rooftops, freeways, wine grapes and avocado trees, lettuce and strawberry fields with more expected the entire week.

Let’s hope it continues at a steady start-and-stop pace rather than what happened March 10, 1995 when father and son, Gary and David Owens, were called into duty rescuing folks from their cars, waterlogged under the Hwy. 1 — Main Street underpass. The corridor was flooded all the way to the intersection at Hwy. 46. Main and Radcliffe Streets which were underwater by over 4-feet deep.

“I don’t expect this to happen again,” said David. “Both of the trailer parks were flooded from all night rain. A shed got loose and lodged under the highway so the water backed up. I’m sure we’re better prepared to handle El Nino today.”

Gary Owens further explained, “There was a major fire a few months earlier off Hwy. 46 — almost to Hwy, 101 and SLO — so the ground behind the trailer parks couldn’t absorb the water. We got 9.5 inches in less than 24 hours.”

David and his mother, Marlene, were co-owners and operators of Village Center Dry Cleaners at 750 Napa in Morro Bay. David took a call for one of his employees, Carol Harpster. The fire department was looking for her husband, Fred, because they knew he had a boat.

“I volunteered I had a Zodiac we used for diving,” said David. He was immediately enlisted to help. The inflatable was at his dad’s home a couple blocks away from the cleaners. “I said to Dad – Do you want to go rescue people?”

David said there were three to four cars stalled near Radcliffe with “water up to the roof.”

Gary said he noticed the “bottom of the water was to the top of the street sign. Estero Glass (fronting Main Street) had cars parked with water running over them.”

When they launched the inflatable, David stepped onto the street at the Radcliffe intersection and it was almost over his head. “It was deep enough to run a 6-hp motor,” he said. “The first guy had dropped his keys and wanted Dad to dive for them. He found his keys. Then there were two guys standing on the top of their Volkswagen grateful to be rescued.”

Next the Owens motored over to Preston Lane where there were people trapped in an apartment complex.

“We rescued two ladies, a guy and their cats. One lady was most grateful for us rescuing her luggage. The firemen couldn’t take it,” said David. “I had to leave Dad there because I didn’t have room. It was a bumpy ride going against a swift current getting the ladies out. I later found out one of the ladies was Norm and Nancy Blackburn’s mom and she had a heart condition, but she made it even though one of the cat carriers was sloshing out of control. At the exit an ambulance was waiting to check them out.”

The Owens team even had to rescue a CDF team. “Their ‘turn-out’ suits filled with water as they were trying to dislodge the shed,” said David. “There was so much current around Preston Lane, I got banged up shins and we both ended up with poison oak getting in and out of the water.”

The entire Owens Family have been business owners in Morro Bay and active community members. Gary and David are both past presidents of Morro Bay Rotary. Marlene has since retired and spends time making finely crafted walking sticks after recuperating from a car accident and making sure she would not only walk, but hike again. She sold her half of the business to David in 2000. Her father, Pete Stock, started it in 1969 after bringing the family to Morro Bay from Nebraska. She was on the founding board of directors for Camp Hapitok, which closed as of 2015. Marlene is also very active as a member and in leadership positions for Quota Club of Morro Bay. They have been involved since it began in the early 1970s.

(Note: Author update information) Today in his spare time Gary enjoys woodworking and is proud of his grandchildren.

David wonders how many of his softball tournaments and games might be rained out this season. Besides managing the cleaners he officiates for the American Softball Association (ASA), recreation department basketball, and high school volleyball. Last year he officiated over 170 games. (Note: David has added Cal Poly events to his officiating schedule since this column was published.)

David also served as president of the board and then director of the Morro Bay Harbor Festival for five years. Wife Dawn was volunteer coordinator for the Harbor Festival and the two of them have four children; Dak, 22, Dari, 20, Dexton, 16, and Devan, 11.

We will hear more from the Owens family. Their children were active at Camp Hapitok and Dari has taken top academic honors at college and Dak is fitting nicely into the family-owned business.

Thank you, Owens Family, for all you do for the Central Coast and Morro Bay.

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