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PD Editorial: Storm of decade leaves behind flood worries

Just as the North Coast was starting to feel comfortable with the amount of rain received this winter, Mother Nature unleashed her fury over the weekend, pounding the region with rain and high winds, toppling trees, forcing the closure of northbound Highway 101 in Windsor, flooding roads and reminding residents of storms not seen in years.

And the impacts are far from over. About 3,000 residents in the Guerneville and Monte Rio area were encouraged to evacuate late Sunday as the Russian River neared flood stage. The National Weather Service is predicting the river will crest at 38.1 feet by noon today at Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville. That’s six feet above flood stage, which would make this the highest flood the Russian River Valley has seen since New Year’s Day of 2006.

As Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman said, between 36 to 38 feet, roads start to get lost under water. “(At) 40 feet, we’ll be islands out here,” he said.

The river is expected to remain at or above flood levels through 10 a.m. on Tuesday, which is why Forestville Union and Occidental Union schools will be closed today. Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm also will remain closed.

Flooding along the Petaluma River started to subside with the tapering of rainfall Sunday afternoon. But problems could return this morning with a high tide that’s expected shortly before 10:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, driving conditions remain hazardous throughout the North Coast due to flooding, fallen trees and other hazards. As a result, emergency crews are reminding drivers to play it safe - and limit travel today. Here are a few safety guidelines:

Remember, you can be knocked over by a mere 6 inches of moving water, and a mere 2 feet of water can render a vehicle inoperable and cause it to be swept away by the current.

If floodwaters rise around your car but the water is not moving, abandon the vehicle and move to higher ground. Remain in the car if the water is moving and call for help if you have a cellphone.

Avoid parking beside streams and creeks as these areas can flood quickly.

Finally, if you receive an emergency alert about potential flash flooding in your vicinity, move immediately to higher ground. Flash floods are the No. 1 cause of weather-related deaths in the United States.

Despite these warnings, too many drivers try to push through flooded areas and wind up being featured in news coverage.

Finally, while the full extent of the damage is still being assessed, meteorologists deserve praise for projecting the timing and severity of this system. Emergency crews also deserve kudos for their quick response in keeping damage and injury to a minimum. This storm was severe, but without these efforts, it’s clear it would have been far worse.

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