'We’re an island': Flooding cuts off entire towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio
The Russian River rose to its highest level in a generation late Wednesday, flooding storm-battered neighborhoods up and down the main stem and turning several lower river towns into islands disconnected from the rest of Sonoma County because floodwater and mudslides closed major roads.
Thousands of people were displaced as the roiling river escaped its banks and flattened into a broad expanse of brown plasma that swept through vineyards, riverside neighborhoods and other low-lying areas, swamping cars and picking up all kinds of debris, including a dumpster and port-a-potties seen carried away in the swift current.
The river crested at 45.5 feet at 10 p.m. after three days of staggering rainfall that in the wettest areas west of Healdsburg surpassed 20 inches.
Even Santa Rosa boasted a three-day total of 8.76 inches from the atmospheric river that stalled overhead, the National Weather Service said.
The resulting flood is now on record as the worst since New Year’s Day 1997, during which the river rose to 45 feet in Guerneville, and the sixth worst since 1940. The largest flood recorded occurred in 1986, when the lower river there crested at 49.5 feet.
Sonoma County officials estimated 2,022 homes, businesses and other buildings had taken on floodwater, based on a preliminary analysis of flood maps, a county spokesman said. The water was expected to begin receding by midnight Wednesday but remain above flood stage of 32 feet for 24 hours, county officials said.
The county put its preliminary storm-related costs at $25 million, including an estimated $2.5 million in emergency response, said Supervisor David Rabbitt, board chairman.
Though Guerneville and nearby communities like Monte Rio bore the brunt of the rising water, as is typical, flooding also was reported along riverfront properties elsewhere, including Healdsburg.
In Sebastopol, the Laguna de Santa Rosa spilled over into The Barlow marketplace, which took on several feet of water, and into the city-owned Park Village mobile home park.
Flooding and storm damage also disrupted general travel, schools and mail delivery around the county, even as streams and river sections that rose late Tuesday and early Wednesday began to recede.
Thousands of consumers around Sonoma County lost power, including a peak of 7,700 households as of Wednesday evening, a PG&E spokeswoman said.
About 265 customers in a flooded area of Forestville also had their natural gas service cut overnight, spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said. She said those customers were to be notified via telephone and would have their pilot lights relit by PG&E workers once gas service was restored.
On Tuesday, 18 PG&E employees and contract workers were trapped overnight on Fort Ross Road in Cazadero by mudslides that prevented them from getting out of an area where they had been making repairs. They were airlifted out by helicopters on Wednesday afternoon, Contreras said.
The California National Guard has deployed six high-water trucks and about 30 personnel to help with round-the-clock rescue efforts and flood-related missions, primarily in west Sonoma County, working out of the Graton field command post established by local emergency response agency, National Guard representatives said.
Four CHP and Cal Fire helicopters also patrolled the flood zone by air to assist multiple fire agencies and Sonoma County sheriff’s personnel with rescue operations Wednesday, a county spokesman said.