Storm exits Sonoma County, with rescues, receding floodwaters and road closures in wake
Storm-weary Sonoma County saw a welcome break in the weather Thursday, with floodwaters receding, thousands of displaced residents awaiting a chance to return home and Gov. Gavin Newsom uncorking much needed financial relief.
Yet even as the Russian River retreated from Wednesday night’s crest, the highest level in more than two decades, murky brown water blanketed vast expanses of the county and continued to make boats a primary means of transportation in Guerneville, Monte Rio and even part of Sebastopol.
The flood’s onslaught drove people from their homes along the Russian River from the county’s north end to the river’s mouth at the Pacific Ocean, damaging about 2,000 structures and inundating dozens of county roads. It made much of human endeavor seem puny by comparison.
From high above, the scenario was stunning, county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said after a helicopter tour with emergency response officials to assess the damage.
“Seeing it from the air, seeing how huge the river was, how tiny the houses were, it really hits you,” she said. “When you see the river like that, it reminds you how small we are, honestly.”
“It’s one of those powerful forces of nature… every once in awhile it reminds us that we don’t have as much control as we think we do,” said Hopkins, who represents the west county area hit hardest by the deluge.
Trees crashed into homes, mudslides blocked roads and first responders using high-water vehicles, boats and helicopters rescued 59 people from the disaster’s grip. By Thursday the worst seemed over.
Call volume to Redcom’s emergency post in Graton dropped off sharply Wednesday night and Thursday, incident commander Spencer Andreis said.
“We’ve had a couple cars stranded in water, rock slides, hazardous conditions, but not anywhere like what we were experiencing,” he said.
Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman said Thursday was a quiet day, with no emergency calls. “Just helping people get back into their houses,” he said.
In Guerneville, a virtual island surrounded by floodwater, River Theater owner Jerry Knight surveyed the props, chairs and debris floating in front of the performance stage. He said it was the worst flooding he’d ever experienced.
In Sebastopol, floodwaters poured into The Barlow, the high-end shopping center, causing potentially millions of dollars in damage. Some tenants blamed the site’s owner, Barney Aldridge, who they said failed to adequately notify them of the flood danger and did not raise all the flood gates in time. Aldridge declined to comment.
The tasting room at Gracianna Winery on Westside Road south of Healdsburg was inundated nearly to the ceiling and the wine cellar beneath the estate house was submerged and unreachable, owner Trini Amador III said.
Amador said the flooding was “a major catastrophe” for the family-owned winery located next to the Russian River. The full extent of the loss “is not fully known yet,” he said.
The incessant rainfall came to a halt Thursday for the first extended period since a powerful atmospheric river rolled in Monday and stalled overhead.
A trace of rain was reported by 4 p.m. in Santa Rosa. Venado in the hills west of Healdsburg, typically the wettest spot in the Bay Area, had no rain, the National Weather Service reported.