Rain lets up in flood-ravaged California

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 2:13am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 February, 2017, 2:13am

California welcomed a brief reprieve from weeks of driving rains Wednesday but still faced threats from raging rivers and bloated reservoirs that forced daring rescues and kept thousands of residents from their homes.

Parts of San Jose were underwater after the Anderson Reservoir overflowed into Coyote Creek, a river that normally rolls quietly through the Santa Clara Valley. Not on Tuesday.

More than 200 people were rescued by crews steering boats crowded with parents, kids and pets through nasty, chest-deep water. Sewage, garbage and engine fuel tainted the floodwaters, and those rescued needed to wash down with soap, San Jose Fire Capt. Mitch Matlow said.

Neighbourhoods in the 100-year flood zone and beyond drew mandatory evacuation orders.

The “atmospheric river” of storms hammered parts of Southern California with almost a foot of rain late last week before roaring into Northern California on Monday and Tuesday. The region’s waterways, already saturated by weeks of downpours, were ill-equipped for the torrents.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for sections of the Mokelumne, San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers. It noted that “rivers will continue to run high through the end of the week.”

“The effects of the rain will take days to subside,” National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Oravec said. “And more (rain) is on the way.”

Oravec said much of Northern and Central California will see heavy rains roll in sometime Saturday. That storm system could hang around until Monday. He said water management officials are working feverishly to keep reservoirs from filling because they know more is coming. Some areas flooded for the first time in many years, he said.

“It’s ironic, for years there was a drought and we never dreamed of trying to keep water out of those reservoirs,” Oravec said.

Record rain and floods swamp California

In Modesto, mobile home residents living along the Tuolumne River worked to clear out ahead of a surge of water from the Don Pedro Reservoir spillway. It was not an easy job for some.

“The wheels haven’t turned in 20 years,” resident Raymond Lee told the Modesto Bee as he pulled his belongings from his mobile home. “I just got it to where it quit leaking, and if I pull it, it will leak again,“ he said.

The storms even battered portions of Nevada. The weather service issued a flash flood warning for Dayton, Nevada, on Tuesday, where authorities feared a dam might break and send 2 to 4 feet of water into low-lying areas.

“A storm water retention basin located south west of Dayton Valley Road is full and overflowing into drainages,” Lyon County Manager Jeffrey Page said.

Some good news came from Lake Oroville: The water level there is expected to peak 45 feet below capacity by early Wednesday before the level begins dropping once again, Department of Water Resources Director Bill Croyle said. Authorities ordered an emergency evacuation more than a week ago when a spillway threatened to crumble.

Meteorologists placed part of the blame on atmospheric rivers — ribbons of water vapour extending thousands of miles from the tropics to the western US. They fueled the massive rainstorms and subsequent floods that have battered California and much of the West Coast for weeks.