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LeBARON: 'Worst' is relative when it comes to Russian River floods

  • CHRIS DAWSON / The Press Democrat file, 1986
    Bonnie King, left, helps her husband, Grant, across Main Street in Guerneville after the downtow area was flooded when the Russian River crested at 49 feet, 2 inches in February 1986.

A Guerneville resident appeared on our TV screen last weekend, her hair damp, her eyes wide. She was watching the Russian River rise.

"It's the worst I've ever seen," she told the news guy.

The River (which I afford the respect of a capital letter) was about to crest somewhere around 29 feet.

If I listened closely, I thought, I would hear the guffaws from the people gathered at Grant King's sporting goods store or more faintly, in the dimmer past, from the River Rats at the bar in Gori's Tavern.

There would be snide remarks and suggestions that she obviously hadn't been around town long. The worst she'd ever seen, you see, was about 20 feet below what the Guerneville old-timers had experienced.

They had seen that old devil River flowing through the Safeway store, the downtown streets and every resort that ever was; everywhere in fact, except a few very high hills along Armstrong Redwoods Road. Luckily for many of them, there was a spot by the Catholic church where a helicopter could land to get them the heck out of there.

That was more like "worst."

But people are like that about natural disasters. Everyone assumes that the history of any place began the day they arrived.

Oh, I know. You're sick to death of old folks saying that you ain't seen nuthin' like they've seen.

"You call this a blizzard? Lemme tell ya about the snowstorm of 1888. Now THAT was somethin'."


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