February 27, 2019 / 11:03 AM / 7 months ago

River flood swamps 2,000 buildings in Northern California

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A rain-swollen river in Northern California flooded about 2,000 homes and businesses on Wednesday along a valley famous for its wineries and left residents of one town stranded by high waters, officials said.

Water rose to the roofs of homes and submerged cars as the Russian River overflowed its banks, forcing authorities in Sonoma County, about 70 miles (110 km) north of San Francisco, to order the evacuation of 3,600 people, local authorities said.

Residents got around flooded towns in kayaks, an indication that not everyone evacuated. Members of the National Guard and local rescuers used helicopters, boats and high-clearance vehicles to reach about 60 people who stayed behind and needed help, said Barry Dugan, a spokesman for the Sonoma County emergency operations center.

Guerneville, a community of more than 4,500 people that is the largest town in the flood zone, was cut off from other areas by inundated roadways, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter.

“I’ve been here 30 years. I’ve never seen it rain so hard,” said Brian Gipson, director of marketing at the Farmhouse Inn hotel near Guerneville, which evacuated guests after water flooded its car park a third of a mile from the river.

The evacuation orders affected about two dozen communities stretching dozens of miles along the river.

The Russian River rose to more than 45 feet (13.7 meters) late on Wednesday, well over flood stage of 32 feet (9.8 meters), Dugan said. The river was expected to fall below flood stage at the end of Thursday.

The flooding was the worst since 1995, when the Russian River rose to 48 feet (14.6 meters), said National Weather Service meteorologist Carolina Walbrun. The latest inundation was caused by a so-called atmospheric river of moisture from the Pacific Ocean stalling over the region.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office showed video on the department’s Facebook page of brown, muddy water rising above a road and flooding homes.

The flooding has not caused any deaths or injuries, Dugan said.

The estimate of about 2,000 homes and businesses flooded in the area is a preliminary assessment, Dugan said. After waters recede, authorities plan to allow evacuated residents to return to homes and businesses to assess the damage.

Sonoma County officials have asked California Governor Gavin Newsom to declare an emergency in the area to help with recovery.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Leslie Adler, James Dalgleish and Raissa Kasolowsky

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