LEDE 1 OF 1 -- Downtown Napa lies under three feet of muddy water after heavy rains caused the Napa River to flood 1,000 buildings Saturday December 31, 2005. Copia wine center can be seen at the upper left. (Press Democrat / Chad Surmick)

Flooding on Russian , Napa rivers ushers in 2006; traffic tied in knots

A raging winter storm christened the New Year with surging floodwaters along the Russian and Napa rivers, power outages muting holiday celebrations and road closures that snarled travel across Northern California.

Hundreds spent New Year's Eve huddled in emergency shelters as rain threatened more trouble today.

With the Russian River expected to crest at 42.5 feet shortly after the start of the New Year, emergency operations officials "strongly discouraged" travel today because so many of the area's major arteries were clogged with water.

Few of the roads that caused so much trouble Saturday were expected to be open today. For much of Saturday, Highway 101 was closed north of Cloverdale as well as at the Marin County line.

The burgeoning Laguna de Santa Rosa cut off Sebastopol at Highway 12 and at Occidental Road. High water at Highways 12 and 121 in Sonoma made cross-county travel difficult.

And holiday travelers encountered huge delays when Interstate 80 at Fairfield was shut by high water and a landslide farther east prevented skiers from moving between Truckee and the state line.

"We have no idea when these roads will be open," CHP Sgt. Wayne Ziese said.

Weather forecasters said a fast-moving storm today would add another 1 to 2 inches of water to already saturated ground. However, forecasters said today's rain should not significantly affect the Russian or Napa rivers and levels are likely to recede.

"This next storm will send sheets of water across roadways and mudslides are possible," Ziese said. "If you can't see the roadway, don't venture out there."

Some of the worst flooding Saturday was in Napa, where as many as 1,000 homes were affected, and in Petaluma, where four mobile home parks were evacuated. The Petaluma River also surged through stores in the outlet mall and lapped the floorboards of new cars at the auto mall.

The Lucchesi Community Center opened as a shelter to about 100 residents from the mobile home parks, but later many left to see in the New Year at home.

The Red Cross also opened shelters at Analy High School in Sebastopol, the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Ukiah High and Napa High.

Fearing the brown, brackish waters of the Russian River, dozens of Guerneville residents opted to evacuate from the local Veterans Memorial Building and headed by bus for Analy High.

The river was expected to crest at 42.5 feet in Guerneville between midnight and 2 a.m. today, then drop to 34 feet by this evening. Flood stage at Guerneville is 32 feet. The river topped 40 feet at 4 p.m. and was rising steadily.

The last residents at Mirabel Trailer Park on River Road east of Guerneville cleared out by early Saturday.

Shirley Bell, the trailer park manager for nine years, said she and others pulled out Wednesday because "I'm not that much of a diehard."

By Saturday, water was up to the roof of her office.

"This is the worst flooding since I've been there," she said.

In Santa Rosa, Betty Andrews was asleep in her Alderbrook Way home when Santa Rosa Creek came out of its banks at about 4:15 a.m. and swamped the house.

When Karen Andrews and her boyfriend arrived to check on her mother, the water was three-quarters of the way up her bed.

"We woke her," Andrews said. "She said, 'Oh God. Don't tell me.' We said, 'Don't jump out of bed.'" Andrews' boyfriend carried her mother from the house.

A stunning 5.5 inches of rain fell on Guerneville in the 24 hours ending at 4 p.m. Saturday, the most recorded anywhere in Sonoma County except Cazadero. Santa Rosa recorded 4.15 inches of rain, raising the seasonal total to 21.07 inches, almost double the average for this time of the year.

Some Guerneville residents, hardened by years of threats of flooding, decided the storm was no reason to interrupt holiday plans.

Shelli Saucedo took a kayak from her home on Guerneville's Mill Street, a traditional underwater spot during flooding, though she thought her elevated house probably was safe.

"I thought I was prepared, but I just don't want to fish off my deck," she said.

A friend, Bob Henry of Sebastopol, and his brother, David, brought kayaks and David Henry donned a wet suit to go in after Saucedo. Water from Fife Creek was 6 feet deep around her house and rising.

David Henry was visiting from his home in Hannibal, Mo., on the Mississippi River, where folks know plenty about flooding.

"Looks like you all are in for one today," he said.

But at Mill and Fifth streets, Jake Schwartz said he planned to stay put for New Year's Eve in his elevated house, 16 feet above ground and presumably above the 100-year flood level.

"That's what they built these things for," he said.

Schwartz and his partner, Dana Smith, planned to pop open a bottle of champagne at midnight.

"It will be one for the storybook," Schwartz said, wearing chest-high waders.

Power outages forced many to alter New Year's Eve party plans and some events were canceled due to weather.

River Rock Casino near Healdsburg closed for the evening and postponed its special $100,000 "Winner Wheel Celebration" out of concern for the safety of customers and employees, officials said. Two bridges in Alexander Valley were closed by flooding and high water along Highway 128 made portions of it impassable.

Many downtown Sebastopol businesses were without power since early Saturday, forcing restaurants to cancel reservations for holiday meals.

PG&E crews struggled throughout the day to restore electricity to about 8,000 customers in the North Bay, including 2,500 in the Sebastopol area.

PG&E spokesman Lloyd Coker said downed trees on power lines caused most of the problems. The situation could be worse today, he said, if the next storm is accompanied by predicted high winds.

Coker said the utility company wasn't able to say when power would be restored, but it was unlikely to be today. The biggest problem, he said, was in Humboldt County where 60,000 customers had no power and all major roads were impassable to repair crews.

"They may have to fly up to Humboldt by helicopter," Coker said. The back-to-back storms cause problems because "we restore power and another storm comes in and knocks it out again."

Three helicopters, one from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department and two from the National Guard, patrolled flooded areas Saturday afternoon and were set to resume surveillance today, Sheriff's Sgt. Lorenzo Duenas said. He said the helicopters, staffed with paramedics, would be looking for residents in need of evacuation.

A half-dozen helicopter rescues were conducted Saturday, according to the Office of Emergency Operations.

Three people were plucked out of Schellville floodwaters, one man was rescued on Broadway in Sonoma, one man was lifted off the Alexander Valley Bridge and another was rescued from rising water on Highway 12 in Sebastopol.

Forestville firefighters rescued an elderly man from his porch after neighbors saw him waving for help, Sonoma County Assistant Fire Chief Andy Parsons said. Firefighters pushed a boat through about 5 feet of water and moved the man, about 80, to the local firehouse, he said.

Flooding along Mark West Creek brought residents out of their homes early Saturday when rain was pounding their rooftops.

Justin Reed, who was staying at a friend's home on Fulton Road near Mark West Creek, said he saw the creek break its bank about 4:30 a.m.

"Like a tidal wave," said Reed, 32, gesturing at a muddied and debris-littered yard where five pumps cleared away water that a few hours before had been at his friend's door.

The creek also flooded a nearby neighborhood of about 50 homes at Wikiup Meadows Drive, on the creek's north bank. Water filled the street up to 2 feet deep.

"We were sweating it," said Karen Olsen, 57, as she hosed her driveway. "The water came so fast, so furious, that it just dammed up with debris under the bridge."

"Look," she said, opening the back door of her PT Cruiser, parked in a driveway on the higher side of the street. Water had pooled on the car's floor.

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