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Sonoma County cleans up after latest storm mess


The remnants of a ferocious storm blew away Sunday morning, leaving behind countless downed trees, closed roads and thousands on the North Coast without power.

The tight series of storms that walloped the region since Wednesday brought more than a foot of rain to some areas before giving way to blue skies. In Sonoma County, the storm cut power for about 20,000 PG&E customers.

But the projected rainfall, while heavy, didn't add enough to cause local rivers to flood. And a storm expected Tuesday wasn't projected to bring even an inch.

"This is just another day in the winter," said Ernie Saxe, 32, standing at the edge of the Russian River, which rose beyond the yellow-gated entrance to Johnson's Beach in Guerneville.

Saxe, a handyman, had brought his 6-year-old son Cartman to the river's edge because the child didn't believe his favorite summertime spot had disappeared under the water.

And although rain totals met some forecasts, "nothing even looks like it's going to get to low flood stage," said Jim Leddy at Sonoma County's Fire and Emergency Services Department. "It's looking better and better."

County emergency officials said the Russian River was expected to peak in Guerneville at 27 feet, well below flood stage. Officials previously predicted the river could reach 35 feet.

In Healdsburg, the river was due to reach 15 feet, also well below trouble levels.

Concerns of flooding also didn't materialize in Mendocino County, where the river measured 18.79 feet in Hopland late Sunday.

"We haven't had any major flooding. The storm didn't pan out like they thought it was going to," Hopland Fire Chief John Bartlett said.

The story was the same in Napa County with the Napa River.

Still, creeks and streams ballooned. Low-lying vineyards along the Russian River disappeared into lakes that swallowed sections of Wohler Road.

The last storm of the series began late Saturday and brought a concert of heavy rain and gusty winds that ripped tree limbs off trunks, blew chairs off decks and lifted wreaths off doors, causing restless sleep for many across the region.

All told since Wednesday, 7.85 inches of rain fell at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and 6.44 inches in downtown Santa Rosa, National Weather Service meteorologist Diane Henderson said.

And 15.88 inches fell in the hills west of Healdsburg in Venado.

In Bodega Bay, 6.4 inches fell. In Healdsburg, 6.42.

A whopping 17.24 inches fell in Cazadero.

In Lake County, 9.64 inches fell in Middletown and 6.88 in Lakeport.

On the Mendocino Coast, 6.22 inches fell in Fort Bragg. Inland, Boonville had 9.34 inches and Ukiah, 7.96.

"All in all, we're faring better than we thought we would," said Mendocino County sheriff's Sgt. Shannon Barney, who oversees emergency services.

Barney said there were several minor road closures.

The blustery storm kept Terri Micallef, 60, awake at her Westside Road home near Forestville.

"All of a sudden -- boom! -- the power went out," at about 3 a.m. said Micallef, who on Sunday walked her dog Charlie, a Jack Russell and Pomeranian mix, to survey a flooded campground across the road.

Few neighborhoods escaped power failures. There were about 30 different power failures in the Santa Rosa area alone starting at about 5:30 a.m., PG&E spokeswoman Brittany McKannay said.

"It's spread out all over the county, typical winter storm stuff," Sonoma County sheriff's Sgt. Brad Burke said. "Trees down, transformers down."

"It's a complete mix of everything," Russian River fire Capt. Travis Wood said. "Redwood tree limbs, tops, fall over, hit power lines."

Although crews began restoring power throughout the night, thousands remained in the dark much of the day. By 9 p.m. Sunday, 209 customers were still without power in Sonoma County, according to PG&E's online outage map. The map showed only one customer reported to be without power in all of Mendocino County, in Fort Bragg.

The dry skies provided a break for public works, PG&E and fire crews and law enforcement who continued to hustle throughout the county to typical storm-related problems.

Micallef was among those who late afternoon Sunday still had no power.

McKannay said some of the outages could last into Monday, particularly customers in remote areas.

The county's list of roads closed due to standing water or power line dangers was at 26 as of late Sunday.

Of those, 10 were in the west county, including Green Valley Road, where four trees were reported down.

Mudslides shut Geysers, Pine Flat and Old Monte Rio roads.

Flooding also closed Rohnert Park Expressway at Stony Point Road.

Throughout the night, howling winds cause destruction. Come dawn, even city streets were littered with tree debris.

At 8:20 a.m., a large tree fell into a vacant Sebastopol house on Robinson Road.

The ear-splitting snap and crash of the tree made neighbors Gene and Peggy Raymond jump out of bed.

"I heard cracking and I thought, 'Please don't fall on us,' " said Gene Raymond, 61.

The tree crashed between the garage and home next door, taking out a deck and chimney.

At 2:15 a.m., a power pole failed at Hall Road and Third Street, taking down a high-voltage line, said Bill Bullard, Graton's assistant fire chief.

"It took out power to a significant portion of western Santa Rosa," Bullard said.

In Santa Rosa, a loud knocking awoke Claudia Link, 42, at about 4 a.m. A police officer had come to tell her the storm toppled a massive redwood tree onto her car.

She stepped outside in the rain and saw the crushed Hyundai her husband bought only five months ago.

"It's pretty lucky that it fell this way and not the other way," Link said. "Nobody was hurt."

Graton's volunteer department may have set a record for calls during the night, Bullard said.

Between midnight and 9:30 a.m., the Graton volunteers fielded 21 calls from people reporting hazardous conditions.

"Trees in the roadway or wire in the roadway or trees and wires in the roadway," said Bullard. "And a medical aid or two thrown in for good measure."