Guerneville homes flooded, cars submerged in worst flooding since 1997
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.