Flooded California towns still mostly cut off despite receding waters

Flooded California towns still mostly cut off despite receding waters
Flooded California towns still mostly cut off despite receding waters

By Katharine Jackson

(Reuters) - Low-lying communities along the rain-engorged Russian River in Northern California wine country remained largely cut off by flooding on Thursday, even as waters began receding and sunny skies returned after days of nonstop showers.

With floodwaters receding more slowly than anticipated because of high tides, and many roads still impassable, Sonoma County authorities said evacuation orders and "shelter-in-place" advisories remained in effect for thousands of residents.

Officials said they hoped to allow displaced residents to return home as early as Friday afternoon, once inspectors had a chance to check the safety of bridges and remove hazards such as downed power lines.

"The river is on its way down" and expected to drop below flood stage by 3 a.m. on Friday, Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Spencer Andreis told an afternoon news conference.

County officials had ordered some 3,600 people evacuated on Tuesday as the Russian River overran its banks, sending floodwaters to the rooftops of homes and submerging cars in and around the town of Guerneville, about 70 miles (112 km) north of San Francisco.

An additional 3,000 to 4,000 residents were left stranded in communities isolated by high water, county officials said.

Many of those staying behind used kayaks to traverse flooded streets. By Thursday, National Guard troops, along with state and local emergency teams, had used high-water vehicles to rescue nearly 60 people, Sonoma County officials said.

The latest rescues included two women found drifting in a boat with no paddles and a newspaper delivery driver whose truck ran off the road into 10 feet (3 m) of water, county Sheriff Mark Essick told reporters.

He said there had been no reports of deaths, serious injuries or people missing from the floods.

California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an emergency declaration on Thursday for five Northern California counties to help them recover from the flooding. Newsom previously declared an emergency because of heavy storms hitting 21 counties across the state, which is experiencing one of its wettest winters in decades.

A National Weather Service flood warning remained in effect for the rain-soaked area on Thursday, and at least 20 roads in the Russian River valley, including sections of two highways, were still closed, authorities said.

About 3,000 properties in the area have reported flood damage to authorities, according to local officials.

As of Thursday morning, the towns of Rio Nido, Guerneville, Monte Rio and Cazadero were still inaccessible by road, according to the county emergency operations center. Essick said the entire area was "experiencing huge delays in traffic."

More rain was forecast for late on Friday but was not expected to cause further flooding.

(Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Washington; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Peter Cooney)

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