Guerneville homes flooded, cars submerged in worst flooding since 1997

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GUERNEVILLE — Nickolas Nachorny, 34, anxiously stood at the edge of brown floodwater covering Highway 116, just south of Guerneville Wednesday afternoon.

Carrying a backpack and wearing shorts and waterlogged sneakers, Nachorny spent much of the morning desperately trying to figure out how to get back to the Sebastopol urgent care center where he dropped off his wife and 2-year-old son Tuesday night before coming back to town to help a friend evacuate.

A sharp rock and a flat tire stranded him in Guerneville, which by early Wednesday morning was surrounded by water as the Russian River swelled to 44.6 feet, a level not reached since 1997 when it crested at 45 feet. At 7 p.m., the river surpassed that mark to reach 45.3 feet, and this flood took its place among the region’s worst in history.

“I drove my wife to the hospital for an ear infection. She’s with my son and they have no money,” he said, staring at the flooded highway. “If I had a kayak, I could totally get through that.”

Throughout Wednesday, water from the Russian River and Fife Creek surrounding Guerneville continued to rise, inundating low-lying homes and businesses north and south of Main Street. The wettest areas were the northwest section of town, where Fife Creek meets the river.

There, popular Russian River resorts, cabins, first-floor homes, RV trailers all were overcome by the deluge. As residents stood outside and watched water rush by, there was a faint smell of sewage and gasoline in the air.

Although county authorities Tuesday afternoon had ordered about 3,800 residents in towns along the river — including Guerneville, Monte Rio and Duncans Mills — to leave, since it was projected to crest at or nearly 46 feet by late Wednesday night, many residents stayed anyway. They said they’d rather be marooned in town rather than isolated away from home.

Indeed, at daybreak Wednesday the river had reached more than 42 feet, submerging cars, flooding homes and leaving Guerneville and Monte Rio inaccessible because rising water blocked all the roads.

“We’re an island,” said Kenny Bishop, 67, standing on the corner of Mill and First streets in Guerneville at the edge of brown floodwater steadying himself with a cane.

The retired landscaper who spent three decades working in the East Bay lives on First Street in a second-floor apartment still higher than the water Wednesday. He said he has enough food and wine to get him through the week.

Drama unfolded as other town residents were trapped in their homes.

Those who had canoes, kayaks or boats were quickly overwhelmed with requests for rides between their homes and limited dry ground on Main Street.

In the area locals call Submarine Flats, north of Fife Creek Commons apartments, trailers were completely submerged, some lying on their sides underwater.

One man and his cat were rescued from an old, flooded RV trailer. The man appeared to only have about 1½ feet of air inside the RV before he was rescued. As he was loaded onto the rescue boat, his cat kept jumping out and back onto the top of the RV.

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Leah Kehoe, 40, stood on her balcony in her pajamas watching the floodwater creep up her staircase.

Kehoe was one of many residents worried about their parked cars being stranded in water. She stayed in Guerneville because she thought her elevated apartment was well above the level the floodwater was expected to rise by early Wednesday morning.

“I have food and water and my propane tank is tied down pretty good, I think,” she said, speaking from her balcony. “But I’m worried about the tap water, if that’s OK.”

James Carevich, who lives on Drake Road, moved his blue Ford F-150 pickup to the edge of the floodwater on Mill Street. Carevich, 67, had spent Tuesday night in his truck in the parking lot of the Safeway to avoid the rising water. He said 3 feet of water gushed inside his cabin, which itself is raised about 2 feet off the ground.

“I got everything, all day yesterday,” he said. “I probably got two or three hours of sleep, sitting up, not the way to go.”

Carevich said he didn’t leave Guerneville because he wanted to make sure his granddaughters were safe. After waiting a while, his granddaughter, Althea Anderson, 21, and her fiancé, William Edwards, 22, came rowing up Mill Street in a green canoe.

Anderson dropped Edwards off near their pickup truck parked in front of the Guerneville post office. Edwards drove out of the parking lot, plowing through slightly putrid water and leaving a wake that several bystanders ran to avoid.

While rowing the canoe back to his Mill Court home, Edwards was bombarded with requests from people stranded in their homes.

By 1 p.m., the water had reached Mill Street and was inching its way up Main Street. Small, almost unnoticeable waves moved up the street along the gutters of Main Street.

A CHP helicopter sat in the middle of town’s main roadway, ready for any rescue calls, as swift water rescue technicians shuttled people stranded in flooded sections to higher ground, from Mill Street to Armstrong Woods.

At that time, weather forecasters said the river level was at about 44 feet, with it expected to crest at 45.5 feet at 10 p.m. before starting to recede.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a few residents gathered along Main Street, which looked like a ghost town.

They watched the water come up and run by, and they hoped the worst was over. Many predicted the water would recede and roadways would open sometime Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Nachorny, eager to get back to his wife and son, said he couldn’t wait that long.

Nachorny stared up the side of a hill on the east side of the Highway 116, debating whether to climb up into private property to bypass the flooded highway. With the mandatory evacuation of the Russian River-area still in place, Nachorny worried he would be mistaken for a looter.

Disheveled and tired after spending the night in his truck, Nachorny decided to walk to Sebastopol. He said he had some granola and a quart of clean water for what he expected would be about a 4-mile hike up the ridge to higher ground.

“I can’t stay here for days, simply can’t do it,” he said just before heading up the hillside.

At about 5:30 p.m. the Russian River was still bloating when a young Guerneville couple paddled to the edge edge of the floodwater on Main Street, carrying bags of garbage and other debris.

Robin Roettger, 27, and her partner, Daniel Matson, 32, had come from their home on higher ground in Guernewood Park to check the flooding when they noticed garbage strewn everywhere. Roettger, who works for Bodega Bay Lab, a University of California at Davis site, said she quickly realized all the garbage likely would flow to the ocean when the water recedes.

They picked up glass bottles, cans, bags of garbage, styrofoam takeout containers and other trash.

“I just think all of this is going out to the ocean and any little bit of plastic that you can keep out, every little bit helps,” Roettger said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com

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