California storm prompts evacuation plea
Updated: 2006-01-01 09:48
A powerful storm sent rivers and creeks over their banks and into cities and
set off mudslides that blocked major highways across Northern California on
Saturday. At least a dozen people had to be rescued from the rushing water, and
forecasters were warning of another storm on Sunday.
firefighter Matt Paterson carries an unidentified woman to a bus during an
evacuation at the Youngstown mobile home park in Petaluma, Calif.,
Saturday, Dec. 31, 2005. A powerful winter storm barreled through Northern
California early Saturday, causing record flooding and mudslides that shut
down major roadways. [AP]
California officials urged residents along the Napa and Russian rivers and on
hillsides to collect their valuables, gather emergency supplies and get out.
In the city of Napa, near the heart of wine country, the river rose 5 feet
over flood stage as water surged into downtown before beginning to recede. Napa
officials estimated about 1,000 homes flooded.
"We had so much water in such a short amount of time that man hole covers
were popping all over the city," said Napa City Councilman James Krider.
The Russian River was menacing the Sonoma County town of Guerneville, where
forecasters warned that the river was still rising and could reach 14 feet above
flood stage, and officials were urging residents to evacuate.
Farther inland, Reno, Nev., was seeing its worst flooding since New Year's
Day 1997, when high water caused $1 billion in damage. The Truckee River swamped
downtown buildings on Saturday, and parts of nearby Sparks were under 4 feet of
water. Many businesses along the river closed and owners spent the day piling
Rescue crews also had their hands full, plucking stranded drivers from cars
and flooded homes across the region.
In Sonoma County alone, helicopters were used in six rescues, and
firefighters rescued two more people from a mobile home park, where 4 feet of
rushing water washed at least one home off its foundation.
"We are just very strongly recommending that people living in the lower areas
lock up everything and go to higher ground," said Linda Eubanks of Sonoma
County's Office of Emergency Services. "Just because it stopped raining doesn't
mean the water is going down."
Rick Diaz took off on his own through a flooded Petaluma neighborhood in a
14-foot Zodiac boat, ferrying residents to dry ground and rescuing their pets.
"He's a hero," said a tearful Suzi Keber after the wetsuit-clad Diaz rescued
two pet lizards from her home.
In downtown San Anselmo, the creek overflowed into as many as 70 businesses,
said town administrator Debbie Stutsman. Two people rescued from the rising
water there were hospitalized with hypothermia, she said.
"I'm looking out of my office now at merchants bringing their damaged goods
out into the street," Stutsman said. "The entire downtown area was under 4 1/2
feet of water."
"It's pretty bad all across town," she said.
Mudslides closed several major roads, including Interstate 80 in the Sierra
Nevada about 25 miles west of Reno. Six tractor-trailer rigs were caught up in
one slide on the interstate early Saturday, but no injuries were reported.
I-80, the major corridor linking Northern California and points east, was
expected to remain closed for at least two days, said California Department of
Transportation spokesman Mark Dinger.
"No work can be done until the slide stabilizes and we don't know when that
will occur," Dinger said.
Together, the two weekend storms could add as much as 6 inches of rain to the
already water-logged region, said Rick Canepa, a weather service meteorologist
in Monterey. More than 2 feet of snow was also forecast in the Sierra Nevada.
One woman suffered a broken leg when a mudslide destroyed her home in Santa
Rosa late Friday. It took firefighters nearly an hour to free her from the mud
and debris, said Santa Rosa Fire Battalion Chief Andy Pforsich.
Flash flooding and landslides temporarily closed Interstate 5 both ways near
the Oregon line. U.S. Highway 101 was closed by fallen trees and mud south of
Rain also started moving into Southern California on Saturday, and flash
flood watches were issued for areas scarred by wildfire in Santa Barbara,
Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
Even Pasadena's Rose Parade was in danger of rain on Monday. The parade has
had dry days for half a century, but float builders were still prepared to roll
out sheets of clear plastic to protect delicate flowers.
"I'd hate to be selfish to ask God just for this favor, but I came far to
help decorate and see the parade for the first time," said Jean Steadman, 79, of
Georgetown, Texas, as she gathered yellow roses for a safari-themed float.