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Western governors call emergencies over floods

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday widened a state of emergency, expanding it to 16 counties affected by the recent rain. Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn likewise declared a state of emergency across several counties hit hard by flooding.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Most rivers and streams throughout California had receded back below flood stage Tuesday after a pair of severe storms, allowing residents and officials to clean up and assess the damage.

Responding to the crisis, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday widened a state of emergency, expanding it to 16 counties affected by the torrents of recent rain.

Schwarzenegger declared emergencies in Butte, El Dorado, Lake, Lassen, Marin, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties, in response to the rainstorms that began Dec. 19.

“These counties have proclaimed local emergencies and have requested that I proclaim a state of emergency, because the magnitude of this disaster exceeds the capabilities of the services, personnel, equipment and facilities of these counties,” said the governor's proclamation.

The governor's Tuesday declaration expanded on a proclamation on Monday, when he declared a state of emergency in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Napa, Sacramento, Sonoma and Trinity counties. Initial estimates put the damage in two towns alone at more than $100 million.

Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn likewise declared a state of emergency Tuesday across several western Nevada counties hit hard by flooding as damage estimates surpassed the $10 million mark.

Damage to public property is estimated between $10 million and $15 million, but aides to the governor said that does not include any damage to private property in the areas declared disasters — Carson City, Douglas, Lyon, Storey and Washoe counties.

Trying to cope
In California, people in the affected areas adopted various strategies for recovery and for coping.

As soon as the Russian River receded in Guerneville, Dave Roberts began hosing the mud off his bar and sweeping water out the doors.

His Wild Jane’s Bar and Restaurant was drenched in 2½ feet of water when the storms swamped Northern California’s wine country during the weekend, but he took the flooding in stride.

“We’re used to this,” Roberts said Monday. The 20-year resident of this town along the Russian River had survived worse flooding before. “After all, it’s just mud and water, easily cleaned.”

While Northern California recovered from the severe weather, heavy rain followed by snow had turned to ice on highways across northern Nevada, creating hazardous driving conditions and dozens of accidents Tuesday morning. No major accidents or injuries were reported.

“It’s a skating rink out there,” Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Eddie Bowers said.

Eight inches of rain
The weekend storms had dumped up to 8 inches of rain in places, swelling streams and washing mud down hills and onto homes and highways. Levees were breached or weakened, forcing evacuations of dozens of residents. At least three deaths were blamed on the storm — all from falling trees.

As the second storm moved south Monday, soaking the Rose Parade for the first time in 50 years but causing little damage to the Los Angeles area, officials up north shifted into cleanup mode.

“We’re continuing to work our way toward the light at the end of that tunnel,” said Rob Hartman of the National Weather Service’s California-Nevada River Forecast Center in Sacramento.

In Napa, where the river had inundated several downtown blocks, Schwarzenegger toured the flood-damaged areas Monday. A layer of mud and debris still coated city streets, but most flooded roads had been reopened.

1,200 homes damaged
Initial damage estimates there approached $75 million, with about 1,200 homes, 250 businesses and 150 vehicles damaged, Napa spokesman Peter Dreier said Monday.

The storm also flooded thousands of acres of wine country land, but vintners escaped serious damage because grapevines are largely dormant this time of year.

The Marin County town of San Anselmo, north of San Francisco, suffered some $40 million in damage when a creek flooded the downtown with 4 feet of water, coating city streets with mud.

The Russian River at Guerneville crested early Sunday at 42 feet — 10 feet above flood stage — submerging farms and trailer parks. Hundreds of homes were flooded, and the California Army National Guard used all-terrain vehicles to pick up people stranded by high water.

Farther inland, about 40 residents of the rural Solano County town of Collinsville began returning home Monday after a weakened levee the day before threatened their homes and forced evacuations, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Paula Toynbee.

In Novato, authorities said crews completed repairs on a 100-foot section of a levee that was breached Saturday near Highway 101.