A rain-swollen river in Northern California has overflowed its banks, flooding roads, homes and wineries. Officials say the town of Guerneville is surrounded by water and accessible only by boat. (Feb. 27)
The raging Russian River, swollen to near its highest level in a quarter-century, flooded 2,000 homes, killing one person and turning parts of two northern California towns into “islands,” forcing residents to use kayaks and canoes instead of cars.
After reaching its crest of 45.3 feet late Wednesday – about 15 feet above flood stage – the river slowly receded Thursday.
Located about 80 miles west of Sacramento, the towns of Guerneville and neighboring Monte Rio were the two hardest-hit communities. In the towns, where water stood as high as eight feet in some spots, the National Guard had to bring in kayaks.
One man died in the floods Wednesday in Ferndale, which is about 200 miles northwest of Sacramento. He drowned while trying to get to his home where three children were trapped, authorities said Thursday. He was walking through up to 5 feet of water when he was carried away by the fast-moving current. The children were later rescued by deputies.
On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared an emergency for five of the flooded counties.
Although many people in Guerneville evacuated, many others did not. But those who stayed behind appeared to have weathered the floods intact. Officials said they had received no calls for help overnight.
At one point, Guerneville was “officially an island,” the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office had said in a statement.
One resident, Jeff Bridges, co-owner of a hotel, said his first floor was submerged by 7 feet of water, forcing him to stay on the second floor.
In Sebastopol, 12 miles southeast of Guerneville, Mamadou Diouf, owner of the high-end clothing store Tamarind Clothing, waded the streets in knee-high boots to survey the damage after the Laguna de Santa Rosa River jumped its banks
“It is a total loss and our entire clothing store is gone,” Diouf told The (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat. “The water in my store reaches my waist and boxes are floating with clothes. Everything is soaked through with gray water.”
Flood warnings remained in effect throughout the Sacramento Valley on Thursday as tame roadside gullies boiled angrily with runoff, and creeks rushed over roads in some areas.
The National Weather Service for the Bay Area reported a one-day rainfall for Santa Rosa of 8 inches, while the Venado weather station near Guerneville picked up over 20 inches in two days.
Aside from the torrent of rain, Sonoma and Plumas counties were hit by numerous mudslides.
Parts of northern California scarred by last year’s devastating wildfires were especially vulnerable to flooding, said meteorologist Craig Shoemaker at the weather service office in Sacramento.
Sonoma authorities had been particularly worried about mudslides from areas burned out by the 2017 North Bay wildfires that destroyed almost 150,000 acres in Sonoma and surrounding counties and killed 44 people.
On Bohemian Highway, near Monte Rio, two people were rescued after being stuck in a major mudslide Tuesday afternoon, KGO reported.
“Well, I fell into the mud when the tree fell over the top of me,” Kear Koch, a mudslide survivor, told the San Francisco station. “It happened so fast you don’t even know, you know. It’s like I see an image of a tree. It’s not there. It’s there. You know what I mean.”
In the Sierra Nevada, four days of heavy snow came to an end Thursday and Interstate 80 also reopened, but another round of snow is expected for the weekend.
The Sugar Bowl Ski Resort near the Donner Summit in the northern Sierra said Wednesday that it had set a record for February snowfall with over 22 feet recorded. For the entire season, the resort has picked up almost 42 feet.
Mount Shasta Ski Park, about 185 miles north of Sacramento, had closed Tuesday as park officials shoveled the resort out from under the dumping of snow it received over the past day.
“We have not experienced this amount of snow in such a short span in a long time,” the park posted on Facebook Tuesday morning.
The snow has already buried other parts of the Northwest: Officials in rural western Montana were prepared to rescue nearly 50 snowed-in residents of Cascade County if they needed help.
Contributing: The Associated Press; The (Redding, Calif.) Record Searchlight
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