Sonoma County officials estimate $11 million in initial storm damage

The figures represent the first assessment after widespread flooding on local roads, untold downed trees, and other damage from a series of storms since late December.|

The onslaught of heavy rain and wind-driven storms over the past two weeks has caused about $11 million in initial damage to local roads and other public infrastructure, Sonoma County officials estimate.

Five atmospheric river storms have battered the county since late December and more storms are expected to hit the county before any significant break in the weather, Chris Godley, the county’s emergency management director, said Tuesday as he briefed the Board of Supervisors.

He added that the upcoming storms, while still substantial, were not expected to fuel the kind of widespread flooding seen Monday in the region.

Estimates show the county’s emergency response has cost about $378,000 to date, including employee overtime, supplies and equipment, Godley said.

The preliminary $11 million figure includes damage in unincorporated areas and cities, according to Godley.

“This is now my sixth major flood on the Russian River that I’ve worked on,” Godley said. “I feel good about the response.”

He added that private property damage is estimated to total an additional $3.2 million. (By comparison, the county’s last major flood, in 2019, caused more than $155 million in damage, mostly in western Sonoma County.)

Godley’s briefing preceded the board’s unanimous vote to ratify a local emergency proclamation connected to the storms. The ratification allows the county to pursue federal resources available under the emergency declaration for California that President Joe Biden issued on Sunday.

The declaration opens an avenue for the county to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to help assess damage, and to seek reimbursement through FEMA for costs including staff overtime, equipment purchases and the operation of emergency shelters, Godley said in an interview.

The county has not requested any advanced emergency funding from the state or federal government to help with response, Godley added.

The county has set up four community support centers throughout west county, which has been hit hardest by the storm and has two emergency shelters at the county fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.

As of Monday, there were 73 attendees at the centers and 38 people at the shelters.

“We’re bringing more and more resources to bear,” Godley told the board Tuesday.

Those resources included providing mental health services at the center in Occidental, near where a tree fell on a trailer and killed a toddler inside during the Jan. 4 storm.

“Thank you for understanding the sensitivity there,” Hopkins told Godley.

There are 20 roads closed in the county - much of them concentrated in west county near the Lower Russian River - and 4,064 residents without power, as of late Tuesday afternoon according to the county’s winter weather map.

One of the biggest challenges facing the county during these rainy weeks was moving the people living in the campgrounds by the Lower Russian River, Godley and Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said.

“Every single flood brings a new challenge and this time it was the sheer number of RVs and trailers, many of whom did not have a truck to move,” Hopkins said.

The county has helped relocate many of them and is now working with campground owners to ensure the sites are safe for people to return, Godley said.

Rescuing people who drive into flooded roads has posed another challenge, according to Godley. He said people are continuing to drive into flooded roads, despite warnings from officials not to do so.

“We are stressing the first responders out right when we need them the most,” Godley said.

The county’s response and damage assessment will continue with the incoming storms.

The Russian River is expected to rise again on runoff from those storms, cresting near 30 feet in Guerneville on Thursday, Godley said.

“So it will still be very wet,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.

Emma Murphy

County government, politics reporter

The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.

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