Flooded Calif. residents rescued as major storms recede
About 2,000 people in a rural community near Sacramento were asked to leave their homes Tuesday evening as emergency crews worked to try to bolster a levee
By Marcio J. Sanchez and Janie Har
HOLLISTER, Calif. — Rescue workers used boats and fire trucks to evacuate dozens of Northern California residents from their flooded homes Wednesday as a drought-busting series of storms began to move out of the region after days of heavy rain and snow that toppled trees and created havoc as far north as Portland, Oregon.
Reports of the flooding started about 2 a.m. Wednesday as water from a quickly rising creek in the small rural town of Hollister deluged homes on a two-lane stretch of road called Lovers Lane.
Torrents of rain gushed down the street even after rescuers finished evacuating residents more than seven hours later. Some homes had mudlines about five feet high, marking how far the water rose. The water by that time was receding but still waist-deep in places.
"It's just a lot of water," said Kevin O'Neill, emergency services manager for San Benito County. "Fields that look like lakes. The ground just can't soak it up. Vehicles that are partly submerged, homes have water damage."
Lifelong Hollister resident Ted Zanella, 54, called the flooding a rare event.
"I feel bad for the people who were evacuated," he said, "but in a weird way, it's Mother Nature's way."
Forecasters said precipitation would continue through Thursday, but the brunt of the back-to-back systems fueled by an "atmospheric river" weather phenomenon had passed after delivering the heaviest rain in a decade to parts of Northern California and Nevada.
The massive rain and snowfall that prompted a rare blizzard warning in parts of the Sierra Nevada mountains is helping much of Northern California recover from a six-year drought. The series of storms has also added 39 billion gallons of water to Lake Tahoe since Jan. 1.
Stormy weather extended north where Portland, Oregon and Southwest Washington were slammed with a surprising foot of snow, unusual for an area that normally sees rain. Crater Lake National Park in Oregon closed Tuesday and into Wednesday with more than 8 feet of snow on the ground.
The staggering snow totals in the Sierra Nevada —up to 11 feet the past week at some ski resorts around Lake Tahoe — was great for easing drought conditions but bad for area ski enthusiasts as road closures and avalanche threats kept most resorts closed for the third day in a row Wednesday.
Dan Lavely, who moved to Lake Tahoe in 1968 and now lives in Reno, had planned to spend his days off Monday and Tuesday on the slopes of the Mount Rose ski resort southwest of Reno, where he has a season pass.
"In all my years, it's so rare to have too much snow," Lavely said. "Having a season pass, you pretty much live for these conditions. You want 2 or 3 feet of fresh powder, and you want to go play in it."
In Southern California, as the latest round of rain tapered off, a small mudslide compromised a concrete patio on a Laurel Canyon hillside above Hollywood, Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman Margaret Stewart said. No one was hurt but a stretch of Laurel Canyon Road was closed.
About 2,000 people in Wilton, a rural community near Sacramento, were asked to leave their homes Tuesday evening as emergency crews worked to try to bolster a levee alongside the Cosumnes River.
The river reached flood level early Wednesday, leaving some farmland flooded and roads blocked off.
"I haven't heard of anyone who actually had damage yet, but the water is still coming downhill," said Mary Campfield, 62, who has lived in Wilton for 31 years. "Outreach was good and people are watching out for each other."
Near Sacramento, a small tornado tore tree limbs and ripped awnings late Tuesday, National Weather Service meteorologist David Rowe said.
No injuries were reported from the twister, which was about 100 yards wide and registered on the low end of the tornado scale.
Some 50 homes were affected in Hollister, about 95 miles south of San Francisco, said O'Neill, the emergency services manager. About 60 residents evacuated on their own. Personnel using boats, Jeeps and firetrucks rescued about 50 people.
It wasn't just people who needed rescuing: Nearly a dozen cows sought refuge on top of a mound of dirt in their pen at a Hollister farm, which was completely flooded.