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Homes evacuated due to weakened Calif. dam

Deputies evacuated 100 homes early Wednesday because of a storm-weakened earthen dam that appeared close to rupturing.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Deputies evacuated about 100 homes early Wednesday because of a storm-weakened earthen dam that appeared close to rupturing. Two levees had broken a day earlier in the Central Valley, and homes were evacuated near San Francisco because of a threat of landslides from the heavy rain.

The 12-foot earthen dam is at a golf course near Valley Springs in the Sierra foothills, surrounded by a semi-residential area of ranch homes and horse properties.

Up to 4 inches of rain had fallen in 24 hours in the area, weakening the dam, said Angus Barkhuff, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. If the dam were to fail, water would drain into a smaller pond that will likely overflow into the Calaveras River.

Teams from the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department began evacuating homes during the night, and the weather service posted a flash flood warning for the area.

Rain has been falling on Northern California for the past month and meteorologists predict continued wet weather for two more weeks.

The two levee breaks Tuesday in the agricultural Central Valley forced evacuations of residential areas and inundated farmland.

“The bad news is rain stays in the forecast basically until further notice,” said Ryan Walbrun, lead forecaster at the weather service office in Monterey. The weather service has been holding regular conference calls with state disaster-management officials.

Southern California has also been getting drenched. Two people had to be rescued from swollen creeks on Tuesday: One was a man whose pickup was swept off a road into a creek in Ventura County, and the other was a 12-year-old boy who fell into a flood control channel in Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley.

Tuesday’s 1.43 inches of rain in downtown Los Angeles broke a record set in 1929, although the city’s total since July 1 is only 11.85 inches, 2.3 inches below normal.

Levee breach
Floodwaters breached a 30-foot section of levee along a creek in Merced, sending up to 18 inches of water pouring through a mobile home park, said Michael Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Water Resources. There were no reports of injuries.

"I got a sweater, a top, a pair of pants — only what I had on my back," said Cora Ramirez, who was trapped in her house by rising water and had to be carried out by firefighters. Ramirez, who uses a wheelchair, waited out the flooding at an American Red Cross shelter.

About 200 people from three trailer parks were evacuated, said Elaine Post, spokeswoman for the Merced County Office of Emergency Services.

The floodwaters also swelled into a nearby residential neighborhood, peaking at about two feet, then receding and leaving a grimy ring of debris on homes.

Mario Ortega carried out his elderly parents' belongings into a waiting pickup truck, wading through water that covered their front lawn. "How long will they have to put up with this? It's frustrating to see them in this situation," Ortega said.

Repair funds sought
In Washington, D.C., a key Senate spending committee approved $22 million for high-priority levee repair projects on the California Delta. That is a tiny fraction of the $6 billion Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sought earlier this year.

"I think it just shows, again, how important it is for us to concentrate on repairing and fixing our levees," Schwarzenegger said Tuesday.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the money as part of an emergency spending bill for hurricane recovery and military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who sits on the committee.

The House version of the legislation does not include the levee money, so even if the full Senate passes the measure, the two houses would have to reach a compromise.

Sacramento had 5.29 inches of rain in March — 2.49 inches more than average, according to the National Weather Service. Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, San Rafael and Santa Rosa all broke rainy-day records last month.

Reservoir operators released water from a variety of dams to make way for the rainwater.

In Broadmoor, south of San Francisco, a handful of residents left their homes after a voluntary evacuation order was issued when a hillside above their neighborhood threatened to give way.

And Highway 1 south of San Francisco was closed in three places, including at Devil's Slide, long prone to rockslides.