Flooding, mudslides force evacuations along rising Russian River

Flooding and mudslides triggered by weekend storms forced evacuations Monday from threatened homes along the Russian River, ahead of a second storm bearing down Tuesday on the North Coast, bringing the potential for several more inches of rain.

The National Weather Service on Monday extended flood warnings for the Russian River through Wednesday while calling for 2-to-4 inches of rain over most of Sonoma County Tuesday.

The storm also was expected to bring strong winds, with gusts over 40 mph, and the threat of coastal flooding this morning caused by 6-to-7-foot “king tides.”

Evacuations are still being advised for roughly 3,000 people living in low-lying areas of Guerneville and Monte Rio. The county is continuing to offer rides from the river to Santa Rosa's Veterans Memorial Building, where a shelter is on standby depending on the need. Only one person sought the service Sunday night.

Guerneville's Veterans Memorial Hall also is staying open around-the-clock through Friday for homeless people to find shelter from the storm.

Residents in a neighborhood at the intersection of Old Monte Rio Road and Santa Rosa Avenue, across the river from Vacation Beach west of Guerneville, were forced to seek alternate shelter Monday evening because of a mudslide that threatens their homes.

County officials, who red-tagged seven homes, were planning to return to the site this morning to determine whether it is safe for residents to return.

Across Sonoma County Monday, about 2,200 homes were still without power Monday evening. Pacific Gas and Electric crews have restored power to more than 15,000 households since Saturday, when a powerful storm fueled by an atmospheric river roared into the region, bringing with it more than a foot of rain in the wettest west county spots.

Monday brought a welcome break in the weather, with a smattering of rain and mild temperatures. Nevertheless, emergency crews were kept busy responding to a host of lingering storm-related problems.

Several motorists had to be rescued after driving around road-closure signs and their vehicles became trapped in high water, including a Roseville man who had to be airlifted to safety after his Hummer bogged down in floodwaters on a rural road west of Santa Rosa.

Torrential downpour from weekend storms continued to swell creeks and tributaries of the Russian River, which began overflowing its banks late Sunday before cresting Monday afternoon at 35 feet - 3 feet above flood stage.

Based on government models, as many as 550 homes in and around Guerneville could be affected by flooding at that river height, although officials Monday cautioned that number includes relatively minor problems and not necessarily homes fully inundated with water.

Significant rainfall over the next two days would exacerbate problems, given the saturated ground and already surging creeks and rivers. Monday's forecast called for widespread rainfall in Sonoma County Tuesday, locally heavy at times, with more than 2 inches forecast for Santa Rosa and as much as 4 inches in the hills.

Gusty winds should be at their worst this afternoon and tonight.

The National Weather Service late Monday predicted the Russian River would fall below flood stage Tuesday before cresting Wednesday evening at 36.4 feet - about a foot higher than what it reached Monday.

Officials said those predictions likely will change over the next day or so as the latest storm reveals its true power. Their message Monday was for people not to let their guard down.

“Stay safe, keep checking local weather reports and county road closures, and don't be afraid to offer or ask for help from your local community,” said incoming Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose district includes the Russian River area.

Some homes along the river and in low-lying areas near creeks were in water Monday, with local residents preparing for more rain and more flooding.

On the northern end of downtown Guerneville, the waters of Fife Creek had reached the parking lot under the Fife Creek Commons, a Burbank Housing apartment complex on Fifth Street, between Mill and Church streets.

Rental cabin homes and RV trailers on property just north of the Burbank Housing complex were already in about 2 feet of water, with residents having to either wade through water or use flat bottom boats and rafts to remove their property from their homes.

Sam Cagle, 53, said his travel trailer was just a few inches above the cresting waters Monday afternoon, but he couldn't get it out unless someone with a truck helped him tow it through surrounding floodwaters. Cagle said he had just moved his trailer to the property from Sebastopol six months ago, “when it was nice and dry.”

Chris Venza, 73, made his way through the flooded streets in a walker and waders that rose past his knees. Venza, who lives in an elevated section of the cabin rentals, was headed home after going to the local store for supplies and visiting neighbors.

“I didn't think it was going to get this bad,” he said, adding he would stick out the next rain and any more flooding.

“I have gas, electricity and water. If I had a gondola service, it would be better,” Venza said.

Ed Hendry, maintenance manager at Fife Creek Commons, said he was prepared to ferry people to and from the apartment complex in the flat bottom boat he keeps chained and locked to a nearby wrought iron bench.

Though the apartments are about 16 feet above the street, more rain could flood the sidewalks and streets, he said.

“We have a couple of people who are handicapped and we might have to help them if they have to get out,” he said.

Hendry's wife, Shelli, who manages the property, said most of the tenants have been preparing for the floodwaters since last week. She said tenants have been asked to stock up on bottled water, canned goods, candles and flashlight batteries. They've also been asked to fill up their bathtubs with water to use for flushing toilets in case water service is interrupted.

River flooding prompted an advisory for people in Guerneville and environs to boil their drinking water as insurance against contamination. About 2,000 account-holders with the Sweetwater Springs Water District, which serves Guerneville and several smaller river communities, were included in the advisory. More information is available at or by calling the district office at (707) 869-4000.

Guerneville's winter shelter was at capacity Sunday night with 54 people, including a group that had to leave a riverside encampment as flooding from the river encroached upon their space.

The river Sunday evening was “licking at our feet,” said Carolyn Kennon, 62, a resident of the homeless camp.

Down the road in Forestville, firefighters Monday morning evacuated 14 teens and two staff members from a West County juvenile probation camp, which had turned into an island surrounded by Russian River floodwaters. The teens, all males, were taken to the Los Guilicos county juvenile detention hall in east Santa Rosa.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or On Twitter @deadlinederek. You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish. You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or On Twitter@rossmannreport.

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