About 3,000 in Guerneville, Monte Rio advised to evacuate due to Russian River flooding

Sunday's storm downed trees, flooded roads and cut power to more than 20,000 customers in Sonoma County and neighboring counties, and led to an advised evacuation for 3,000 residents in Guerneville and Monte Rio.|

A punishing winter storm brought flooding, mudslides and power outages across the North Coast and pushed the lower Russian River toward its banks Sunday night, prompting the first evacuation advisories in 11 years for 3,000 people whose homes and businesses may be inundated with water Monday.

All eyes were on the rising water along the Russian River through west Sonoma County communities like Guerneville, Monte Rio and Duncans Mills, where the river was expected to reach flood stage late Sunday and crest around noon Monday at 37 feet - 5 feet above flood stage.

That would trigger “moderate” flooding in low-lying areas of the Russian River near Guerneville and farther west, according to National Weather Service models.

About 650 homes and businesses are in the area of the evacuation notices. In Guerneville, the area encompasses River and Old River roads, and in Monte Rio, along Freezeout Road off Moscow Road.

Residents received automated phone and text messages advising them to evacuate their homes and seek shelter elsewhere.

The county established a shelter at the Santa Rosa Veterans Building Sunday afternoon and offered people rides away from the river, departing from the Mirabel Park and Ride - across from Burke's Canoe Rental - and from the parking lot of the Guerneville Safeway. Rides also could be requested by calling 707-585-7541.

County officials issued the evacuation advisories out of “an abundance of caution,” said spokeswoman Rebecca Wachsberg.

The last time officials took such action was New Year's weekend in 2006, when powerful storms swelled the Russian River to 42 feet, sparking floods, sending 600 people to Red Cross shelters and causing $300 million in damage.

The storms that blew into the North Bay over the past week, while potent, lacked similar destructive power. No significant injuries have been reported, while flooding damages are still being assessed.

School closures for Monday were announced by the Forestville, Harmony, Monte Rio and Alexander Valley union school districts, Guerneville School District, and Cloverdale and Geyserville unified school districts.

Santa Rosa Junior College also planned to keep its Shone Farm property off Eastside Road near Riverfront Regional Park shut down for the day, due to potential river flooding.

The forecast calls for rain showers Monday, followed by another storm Tuesday expected to bring moderate amounts of precipitation through the middle of the week.

Weekend storms dumped nearly a foot of rain over a 48-hour period from Friday to Sunday evening in Venado, a weather station west of Healdsburg. That was the most of any location in the Bay Area by several inches.

Lake Sonoma recorded more than 6 inches of rain over the same period, while Windsor, Occidental and Monte Rio topped 4 inches.

Santa Rosa recorded 3.45 inches, bringing its seasonal total to 25.72 inches, about 1 1/2 times average.

“It's a hell of a start,” Bob Benjamin, a forecaster for the National Weather Service, said of the mid-winter precipitation totals.

Also Monday, authorities in Petaluma will be keeping close watch on the Petaluma River, which is actually a tidal slough and, thus, likely to be highly reactive to a very high tide expected to arrive shortly before 10:30 a.m.

The river topped its bank early Sunday, as well, submerging several low-lying areas mainly in the north part of town and closing the Petaluma Auto Mall.

Several motorists required rescue from stalled vehicles, including one on North McDowell Boulevard and another on Corona Road near the river, where two occupants were taken to safety by civilians in a kayak, police Petaluma Police Lt. Tim Lyons said.

At least two homes were surrounded by floodwaters, and employees at a local Chevron gas station were helped to safety as well.

The rising water threatened to flood the Leisure Lake Mobile Home Park on Stony Point Road, though evacuations ultimately were unnecessary thanks to subsiding rain and receding tides.

Given additional rain in the forecast and Monday's high tide, “we have some more local flooding then,” Lyons said.

The weekend storm dumped 2-to-3 inches of rain in most areas with much in the coastal hills. Much of that will seek the river and other low points collecting runoff for several days, officials said.

In the meantime, low-lying roadways around the county were under water Sunday after torrential rains through the previous night.

Among the road closures was northbound Highway 101 in Windsor, where the lanes were covered by 3 feet of water at one point, trapping several motorists in the early morning hours.

Also closed were Highways 12 and 121 in Schellville in the Sonoma Valley, Highway 1 in Valley Ford and Highway 175 in the town of Hopland, due to minor flooding on the Russian River there.

Highway 128 where the Navarro River approaches the southern Mendocino Coast also was expected to require closure. The Navarro River was expected to crest close to 4 1/2 feet above flood stage at 7 p.m. Sunday.

At least a dozen county roads were closed Sunday, as well, in addition to portions of roadways in cities around the region.

“All the standard detours are in effect,” California Highway Patrol Capt. Christopher Childs said from the agency's Napa office.

In addition to rain dropped on an already drenched landscape, the storm arrived with high winds that toppled scores, perhaps hundreds, of trees around the region, cutting power to more than 20,000 North Coast residents, about half of them in Sonoma County and most of the others in Mendocino County, though Lake and Humboldt counties were hit as well. Nearly 3,000 Santa Rosa households were without power at one point.

The National Weather Service recorded a wind gust of 76 mph in Gualala Sunday, and another one of 52 mph in Monte Rio. So many power lines were down that in Sonoma County, seven or eight fire crews were stuck monitoring downed lines for hours awaiting repair personnel, emergency dispatchers said.

The Mendocino Coast was especially affected, with large outages reported in Fort Bragg, Mendocino and Albion.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said he was grateful for advance forecasting and preparation that brought Pacific Gas and Electric crews to the area early so they could begin what would be a round-the-clock effort.

Allman said he also had been taking part in radio broadcasts to alert citizens to the dangers of energized power lines, among other storm-related hazards.

“The saturation is a big part of the problem today,” he added. “That's why we have so many downed trees in Fort Bragg, because of the saturation and high winds.”

In Lake County, the biggest trouble spot was probably Hidden Valley Lake, a subdivision of nearly 6,000 people north of Middletown.

Low-lying areas around the golf course just east of Highway 29 were evacuated Sunday afternoon and evacuees invited to stay at the Twin Pines Casino & Hotel, which offered space to them as it did during several major wildfires in the county over the past year, according to Sheriff Brian Martin.

“The water is coming right up to people's doors,” Martin said Sunday afternoon. “We're working with Cal Fire to get them out and get them to safety.”

Though it usually takes days for the rain in the watershed to reach Clear Lake, Martin said there was no immediate concern, especially with the breathing room provided by recent years of drought.

“Generally what we see on the lake is for every inch of rain we see about a 5-inch rise in the lake level,” he said. “It takes a few days before all that water makes it down through the watersheds and then the lake.”

Staff Writer Christi Warren contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek. You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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