Russian River storm relief to be aided by Redwood Credit Union campaign

Relief fund established

Organized by Redwood Credit Union, in partnership with The Press Democrat and Sonoma County Supervisors James Gore and Lynda Hopkins

Sitting behind the wheel of a backhoe Saturday, Kear Koch of Monte Rio scooped mud and other debris deposited by last week’s flooding along the Russian River into an industrial-size waste bin.

Storm waters had lapped at the second floor of his elevated house while inundating the ramshackle collection of travel trailers and RVs on his property, where about 10 other people live.

Strong currents also scattered all manner of possessions that had been accumulating around his Bohemian Highway compound. As he tipped the tractor’s bucket, discarded propane tanks, soggy mattresses and old furniture tumbled into the trash container.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Koch, 62, as he surveyed the scene in mud-splattered clothes. “And it’s ongoing.”

Even as a new storm approaches the North Coast, a massive cleanup is underway after heavy rains pushed the river to its highest level in 10 years, causing moderate flooding that threatened up to 800 homes.

County officials are still trying to determine the number of people affected by the high water, but damage to county roads alone is now estimated at $7.1 million.

Damage to private property could be millions of dollars more. Seven Guernewood homes that had been in the path of a mudslide remained red-tagged and off-limits to residents Saturday.

Another potent storm was forecast to arrive Wednesday.

To help out flood victims, Redwood Credit Union, in partnership with The Press Democrat and county Supervisors James Gore and Lynda Hopkins, has opened a relief fund. Donations collected in an online account will go to displaced people for things such as temporary lodging, food or clothing or to small businesses affected by the storms.

“Every dollar that goes into it will go to people in need,” said Cynthia Negri, the credit union’s chief operating officer.

Negri was among a group of community leaders Saturday who gathered at the Sonoma County Water Agency’s new education center at Wohler Bridge to discuss the cleanup, fundraising efforts and other ways to help flood victims.

“We cover the news, but we are also part of this community so we want to get the word out about those along the river who most need our help,” said Catherine Barnett, executive editor of The Press Democrat.

Water that swamped low-lying areas when the river overran its banks swept away garbage and items stored under people’s houses. It also washed away debris from homeless encampments, clogging the river and area beaches with tons of trash.

Old batteries, tires and discarded car parts were among the piles of junk washed into the river, according to Hopkins. Also, an unknown number of RVs and abandoned cars were destroyed and will need to be removed.

“We don’t have a community without the Russian River,” Gore said. “But at the same time, we have to mind our maker.”

In response, local organizations were fanning out to clean it up. Members of the Clean River Alliance were meeting at 10 a.m. today in the Guerneville Plaza. Waste haulers were placing dumpsters throughout the area. The Guerneville transfer station will accept hazardous materials next Saturday.

As the sun shone Saturday, many residents were out mopping floors, clearing trees from yards and tossing debris into bins.

Guerneville resident Wendy Bignall used a squeegee to push mud from the surface of Mill Street, which she said was nicknamed “Submarine Flats” because it is so prone to flooding.

Standing in muddy fishing waders, she explained how she had to truck in 5,000 gallons of water to spray the underside of her elevated house, which became choked with sediment from a nearby creek.

“A lot of this is Fife Creek puke,” she said.

Her neighbor, Ron Chaney, used a backhoe to clear mud from his driveway. He said fallen trees blocked the creek, adding to the problem.

“This is the worst I’ve seen in 15 years,” Chaney said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or

Relief fund established

Organized by Redwood Credit Union, in partnership with The Press Democrat and Sonoma County Supervisors James Gore and Lynda Hopkins

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