Raging Russian River turns 2 towns into an island

The raging Russian river, swollen to near its highest level in a quarter-century, has turned parts of two northern California towns into an “island,” forcing residents to use kayaks and canoes instead of cars.

While hundreds of people fled their homes, about half of the 4,500 residents ignored orders to evacuate, stocking up on food and drinking water instead and vowing to ride it out.

“We want you to leave now,” Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick urged. “The roads may become impassable and you may not be able to get out.”

The Russian River topped 45 feet Wednesday night, nearly 14 feet above flood stage, but was expected to recede by Thursday evening.

Hardest hit were the wine-country towns of Guerneville, about 80 miles west of Sacramento, and Monte Rio, where water stood as high as eight feet in some spots, prompting the National Guard to bring in kayaks. 

Guerneville “is officially an island,” the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

One resident, Jeff Bridges, co-owner of a hotel, says his first floor is submerged by 7 feet of water, forcing him to stay on the second floor.

In Sebastopol, Mamadou Diouf, owner of the high-end clothing store Tamarind Clothing, waded the streets in knee-high boots to survey the damage after the Laguna de Santa Rosa river jumped its banks

“It is a total loss and our entire clothing store is gone,” Diouf told The (Santa Rosa) Press Democrat.  “The water in my store reaches my waist and boxes are floating with clothes. Everything is soaked through with gray water.”

More: More rain, snow expected in storm-battered California, following days of mudslides and floods

The weather service issued flood warnings throughout the Sacramento Valley on as tame roadside gullies boiled angrily with runoff, and creeks rushed over roads in some areas.

The National Weather service for the Bay Area reported a one-day rainfall for Santa Rosa of 5.66 inches, topping a 100-year record for the date by more than 3 inches.

Aside from the torrent of rain, Sonoma and Plumas counties were hit by numerous mudslides.

Parts of northern California scarred by last year’s devastating wildfires are especially vulnerable to flooding, said meteorologist Craig Shoemaker at the weather service office in Sacramento. 

Sonoma authorities were particularly worried about mudslides from areas burned out by the 2017 North Bay wildfires that destroyed almost 150,000 acres in Sonoma and surrounding counties and killed 44 people.

On Bohemian HIghway, near Monte Rio, two people were rescued after being stuck in a major mudslide Tuesday afternoon, KGO reported.

“Well I fell into the mud when the tree fell over the top of me,” Kear Koch, a mudslide survivor, told the San Francisco station. “It happened so fast you don’t even know, you know. It’s like I see an image of a tree. It’s not there. It’s there. You know what I mean.” 

In the Sierra Nevada, heavy snow will persist, the weather service said, and “an additional 1 to 3 feet of snow is possible there through Friday morning.” 

Mount Shasta Ski Park, about 185 miles north of Sacramento, was closed Tuesday as park officials shoveled the resort out from under the dumping of snow it received over the past day. 

“We have not experienced this amount of snow in such a short span in a long time,” the park posted on Facebook Tuesday morning. “We have received 40 inches of snow in the last day and we are expecting 20 inches more today.”

The snow has already buried other parts of the northwest: Officials in rural western Montana are prepared to rescue nearly 50 snowed-in residents of Cascade County if they need help.

Contributing: The Associated Press; The (Redding, Calif.) Record Searchlight

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