With another storm system expected to arrive Christmas Day, crews were racing Monday to repair a damaged levee that separates San Francisquito Creek from dozens of homes in East Palo Alto.

Torrential rains caused the creek to briefly spill over a levee between Verbena Drive and Daphne Way at about 8 p.m. Sunday. Water was later discovered seeping through the levee and bubbling up from the ground near Daphne Way. Widespread power outages were also reported.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for seven homes in the Gardens neighborhood and at least one was damaged to the point of being uninhabitable, East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica told The Daily News.

The creek also overtopped its banks near University and Woodland avenues at about the same time, Abrica said.

Under clearer skies Monday, officials with the city, San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services and California Department of Water Resources met to assess the damage.

"We are working closely ... to immediately strengthen the levee and ensure the safety of our residents," Abrica said.

The leaks are of particular concern because they could compromise the integrity of the levee if left unattended, said San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority Executive Director Len Materman, whose agency is in charge of coordinating flood control projects for the 50-square-mile watershed.

The California Conservation Corps was dispatched Monday to make emergency repairs, Materman said.

Sandbags wrapped in polyethylene plastic sheeting known as visqueen will be added to the levee where the overtopping occurred, said Mike Sartor, director of the Palo Alto Public Works Department. Sartor was providing assistance to East Palo Alto on Monday.

In addition, the area around the leakages will be excavated, refilled and compacted, Sartor said.

Crews were expected to work through the night to complete the work by the time the next storm system arrives today, said Materman, adding that the repairs should hold up for the rest of the rainy season.

"We're not just concerned about the next 24 hours," he said. "We're concerned about the next two to three months."

The coming system isn't expected to pack the same punch as Sunday's storms, which saw two to five inches of rain fall in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Only three-quarters of an inch is expected over a six-hour period today, said Larry Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"While everyone is enjoying their Christmas dinners, they'll also be getting some pretty good showers," Smith said.

Smith, however, warned that the showers could linger over portions of the Bay Area. And with the ground already saturated, the water level in local creeks could quickly rise. He advised residents to pay attention to the local forecast and heed any warnings that are issued.

Local agencies will also be standing by and keeping a close eye on the creek as they did most of Sunday night.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said scenes of the creek overtopping in East Palo Alto and coming close to doing the same at the Pope-Chaucer Bridge in Palo Alto were reminiscent of the 1998 flood that caused an estimated $28 million in damages.

Indeed, the flow, which topped out at nearly 6,000 cubic feet per second, was the third highest in recorded history, Materman said.

In addition to issuing mandatory evacuations Sunday, the fire protection district fanned out through the Gardens neighborhood and encouraged residents to leave. Between 300 and 400 did, Schapelhouman said.

"As sophisticated as we are, we still have to do basic things like go door to door," he said.

As many as 40 residents stayed at a temporary shelter set up by the American Red Cross at the Bell Street YMCA. Others sought refuge with family and friends. Most had returned home by Monday.

Palo Alto came within a couple of feet of experiencing similar flooding Sunday when the creek level hit 22.5 feet at the Pope-Chaucer Bridge. Waters spilled over the banks there in 1998.

"We were really lucky," said Lt. Zach Perron of the Palo Alto Police Department.

Relief is in sight for residents who live under the threat of flooding. Construction is set to begin next year on a project to increase the capacity of the creek between Highway 101 and San Francisco Bay. Among other work, the channel will be excavated and widened to convey 100-year floods and tides.

The project will set the stage for additional flood control work further up the creek, including replacment of the constricted Pope-Chaucer and Newell Road bridges, Materman said.

Email Jason Green at jgreen@dailynewsgroup.com; follow him at twitter.com/jgreendailynews.

STORM WATCH

East Palo Alto residents looking for information about the effort to repair the levee damaged by Sunday's storms can call
650-853-3189.

San Francisquito Creek levels can be viewed at http://www.city
ofpaloalto.org/creekmonitor.

More information about the ongoing effort to control flooding along the creek is available at
www.sfcjpa.org.