Sonoma County prepares for more rain as Russian River communities continue cleanup efforts after flood

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Recovery resources

For recovery services and resources, visit the local assistance center at 16390 Main St., Guerneville. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through this Saturday.

For more information, visit: SoCoEmergency.org.

GUERNEVILLE — Green and blue balloons flew outside shops in Guerneville’s business district Sunday, signaling the doors were open to patrons amid a large-scale cleanup of mud and debris left behind by floodwaters that dealt a damaging blow last week to lower Russian River communities.

About two dozen people waited in line outside an assistance center, which Sonoma County officials opened Sunday in an old Bank of America building on Main Street. Among them was Fawn Whitt, who filled out a questionnaire on a clipboard.

Whitt, 35, lost nearly all her family’s belongings when floodwaters overtook her rented trailer. She was able to save her three children’s birth certificates and a feeding pump for her disabled 9-year-old son.

“Water covered the whole trailer,” Whitt said. “It was crazy.”

The storm caused an estimated $155 million in damage to homes, businesses, roads and other public infrastructure, county officials previously said.

Another rainstorm forecast to arrive mid-Tuesday was expected to bring far less rain than last week’s atmospheric river storm that inundated the Russian River and its tributaries, causing the major waterway to crest late Wednesday at 45.4 feet — well above the 32-foot flood stage.

Forecasts show 1 to 1.5 inches of rain are expected in Sonoma County on Tuesday as the outer edges of a storm heading toward Central California graze the area, according to the National Weather Service. Weather models forecast rainfall between 1.5 to 2.5 inches in the hills.

Flooding is unlikely, but the rain could cause other problems such as mudslides, said Scott Rowe, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

“Everything is saturated, increasing the potential for minor rock slides and inconveniences associated with that,” Rowe said.

“Trees tend to be weaker in saturated soils, and we are forecasting a little bit of wind.”

Perhaps a benefit of more rain is it could help people continue cleaning up the sludge left behind after the floodwaters receded Friday. River residents who have been through floods before know it hardens like concrete when dry.

Piles of sodden furniture, clothing, books, appliances and other belongings have begun to line streets from Forestville downstream to Monte Rio. Cleanup crews with dumpsters and backhoes have started the monumental work of scooping up the debris, while residents have put their backs into the painful work of throwing out all they owned.

On River Road near Stumptown Brewery east of Guerneville, Danielle Arnold and Brian Haycock lugged a waterlogged dresser out of their idyllic first-floor cottage to the roadside where a crew with a front loader was scooping up trash Sunday.

Across the street, Liam Vazquez, 3, picked up a hair clip from the mud outside his family’s home and showed it to his mother, Rachel Vazquez, who was throwing away nearly everything her family owned. Vazquez told him to toss it in a plastic bin among other items to be tossed into a nearby dumpster.

“Mama! Mama!” Liam kept calling out to his mother, who had already spent hours throwing out their belongings yet it seemed as if she’d just begun. Vazquez was trying to view the destruction of her family’s home as an opportunity to downsize and simplify — which has been hard to do with a husband and three children.

Recovery resources

For recovery services and resources, visit the local assistance center at 16390 Main St., Guerneville. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through this Saturday.

For more information, visit: SoCoEmergency.org.

“The hardest loss(es) are the photos,” Vazquez said.

Nearby, workers heaved bedding and furniture out of the quaint units at the Cottages on River Road. Owner Ted Kearns said the flood caused significant damage to 15 of the 20 cottages on the property.

Kearns is moving fast to remodel. He has a contractor scheduled to start restoration work Monday, but he’s concerned about whether the climate’s volatility might put the river community at greater risk of flooding.

“What’s normal now? Is it going to be every five years?” Kearns said.

In Forestville, a mudslide in a neighborhood near Westside Road and the Hacienda Bridge led county building inspectors to put red tags on several homes, barring entry after determining conditions were dangerous. A sign on one house listed “up slope soil movement” and a fallen tree as problems making the house unsafe to inhabit.

As the river crested last week, its water flow subsumed neighborhoods and roads, leaving some communities and parts of the thoroughfare River Road only navigable by boat. That powerful flow deposited an extra propane tank in Alice Teeter’s backyard in the Forest Hills neighborhood near Berry’s Market. It also led to lottery tickets and coffee creamers in her trees and a chair perched atop her fence.

Teeter’s propane tank was askew but functional, allowing her to heat cups of tea and her mother’s gumbo for six friends who showed up Sunday to help clean the debris. Her washer and dryer are toast, but the water never reached her second-floor living quarters. And the spring asparagus and celery in her garden boxes seemed to be thriving.

“I see little pieces of optimism,” Teeter said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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